September 18, 2008

McCain Gains On Issues, But Stalls As Candidate Of Change

Section 3: The Vice-Presidential Candidates

Most voters express favorable views of both vice-presidential candidates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. Each candidate is viewed positively by a large majority of voters in their own party, but Palin has a much better image among independents. Six-in-ten independent voters say they have a favorable opinion of Palin compared with 47% who express a positive view of Biden.

Opinions of Palin are divided along partisan, racial, and religious lines, but the survey finds no significant gender gap in views of the GOP’s first female vice presidential candidate.

Palin receives her highest ratings from voters of her party – 85% of Republicans, including 89% of conservative Republicans, express a positive opinion. By contrast, just about a quarter of Democrats (26%) say they have a favorable view and about six-in-ten (59%) have an unfavorable view of Palin. McCain’s running mate is viewed much more negatively by liberal Democrats (74% unfavorable) than by moderate and conservative Democrats (52%).

Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters who supported Hillary Clinton for their party’s nomination are more likely than those who supported Obama to have a favorable view of Palin (35% vs. 21%). However, nearly half of Clinton supporters (47%) express negative opinions of Palin.

More than six-in-ten white voters who did not graduate from college (62%) express favorable views of Palin; just 23% of non-college whites have a negative opinion of the Alaska governor. By contrast, white college graduates have more divided opinions of Palin (54% favorable vs. 39% unfavorable).

Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants view Palin much more favorably than do white mainline Protestants or white non-Hispanic Catholics; nearly eight-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (78%) offer positive ratings, compared with 63% of white non-Hispanic Catholics and 52% of white mainline Protestants. Views of Palin among those who are not affiliated with a particular religion are, on balance, negative (47% unfavorable vs. 38% favorable).

Young voters are split in their opinions of Sarah Palin. About four-in-ten (41%) express a favorable view and about as many (40%) offer an unfavorable view. Palin is viewed much more favorably among older voters. Fully 60% of voters 30-49 have a positive opinion of John McCain’s running mate, as do majorities of voters 50 and older.

Men, Women View Palin Similarly

Men and women offer nearly identical ratings of Palin; 56% of men and 53% of women say they have a positive view of the vice presidential candidate. This also is the case among men and women across various demographic groups.

For example, 79% of white evangelical Protestant men and 78% of white evangelical Protestant women rate Palin favorably, as do 37% of religiously unaffiliated men and 38% of unaffiliated women. Married men and married women also offer similar ratings
(63% and 60% favorable, respectively) and, among both men and women, those who are married see Palin much more favorably than do those who are not.

Biden’s Favorability Ratings

Most voters (52%) say they have a favorable view of Joe Biden. The Democratic vice presidential nominee is especially popular among voters of his party – 74% of Democrats, including 84% of liberal Democrats, express positive opinions. On balance, Biden receives positive reviews from independent voters (47% favorable vs. 35% unfavorable), but his favorable rating among this group is considerably lower than Palin’s (60% favorable vs. 27% unfavorable). Overall, Biden is viewed favorably by only a third of Republican voters. However, fully half of moderate and liberal Republicans say they have a favorable opinion of Obama’s running mate.

Among religious groups, Biden receives his highest favorable ratings from white, non-Hispanic Catholics (60%). A smaller majority of white mainline Protestants (53%) also say they have a positive view of the Democratic vice presidential candidate, as do 55% of voters who do not identify as belonging to any particular religion. Just more than a third of white evangelical Protestants (35%) see Biden positively; 45% say they have an unfavorable view of him.

Few Would Prefer Palin or Biden as the Nominee

About a fifth of McCain supporters (22%) say that they “almost wish Palin was the Republican nominee instead of John McCain.” White evangelical Protestants who support McCain are more likely to say that is the case; more than a quarter (27%) say they almost wish Palin were at the top of the ticket, compared with 16% of white mainline Protestants and 18% of white, non-Hispanic Catholics. Among white voters, a quarter of those who have not completed college say they almost wish Palin were the nominee, compared with 18% of college graduates.

Fewer Obama supporters say they sometimes wish Biden were the Democratic nominee (10%). White Obama voters who do not have a college degree are more than twice as likely as those who have graduated from college to agree with this statement (15% vs. 7%).

One-Worders of VP Candidates

When asked what one word best describes their impression of the vice presidential nominees, “experienced” is by far the word most frequently used to describe Biden, while “inexperienced” tops the list of words voters use to describe Palin. Both candidates also are described in terms of their ideology; “conservative” is the second most common term that voters volunteer to describe Palin and “liberal” is a distant second to “experienced” for Biden.

For Palin, “strong,” “fresh,” and “interesting” are among the most commonly mentioned terms. Voters also say Palin is “smart,” “confident” and “energetic.”

The most common words used to describe Biden are more mixed. While more volunteer the word “experienced” than any other word to describe the Delaware senator, “old” and “arrogant” are among the most frequently mentioned words. More positively, voters also see him as “knowledgeable,” “strong” and “confident.”