June 24, 2009

Romney’s Image Improves; Palin Well Regarded by Republican Base

Favorability of Leading Republicans

Overview

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has seen his favorability ratings improve and now enjoys a positive balance of opinion among the general public: 40% rate him favorably, 28% unfavorably. This marks a reversal of opinion from February 2008, during the latter stages of the GOP primary campaign, when just 30% viewed him favorably and 44% expressed an unfavorable opinion.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 10-14 among 1,502 adults reached on landlines and cell phones, finds that impressions of Sarah Palin have not changed much since the presidential campaign. Palin continues to be a divisive figure among the general public, with about as many saying they have an unfavorable impression (44%) as a favorable view (45%) of the Alaska governor.

Among Republicans, however, the balance of opinion about Palin is more positive than it is regarding Romney or other leading GOP figures, Newt Gingrich and Michael Steele. More than seven-in-ten Republicans (73%) express a favorable opinion of Palin while just 17% have an unfavorable opinion. Romney, Gingrich and especially Steele are less familiar figures – among the public overall and Republicans – than is Palin. While comparable percentages of Republicans rate Palin and the other Republicans unfavorably, far more view Palin favorably. And Palin continues to be overwhelmingly popular with key parts of the GOP base – white evangelical Republicans (84% favorable) and conservative Republicans (80% favorable).

Romney’s Image Improves

Since February 2008, shortly before he abandoned his race for the GOP presidential nomination, opinion of Romney has improved across most political and demographic groups, but the shift has been particularly pronounced among independents. In February 2008, just 29% of independents had a positive impression of Romney while 46% had a negative view. Today, that balance is reversed: 44% view Romney favorably and 25% unfavorably.

Positive opinions among both Democrats and Republicans have increased by eight points since early 2008. Among Republicans, Romney has made identical nine-point gains in favorability among conservative Republicans and moderate and liberal Republicans; currently, 61% of conservative Republicans and 52% of moderate and liberal members of the GOP express positive opinions of Romney.

Romney’s favorable ratings have not changed significantly among white non-Hispanic evangelical Republicans; 54% have a favorable opinion now, compared with 52% in February 2008. Among all other Republicans, by contrast, positive opinions of Romney have increased by 11 points, while negative opinions have fallen considerably (from 31% to 16%).

Sarah Palin Favorability

Almost a year after capturing the attention of the political world as John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin remains a broadly popular figure within the Republican Party, despite receiving mixed reviews from the public as a whole.

Palin received her highest overall favorability rating of 50% in mid-September 2008, shortly after McCain named her as his vice-presidential running mate. At that time just 34% expressed an unfavorable opinion of the Alaska governor, while 16% offered no opinion. But her favorability slipped later in the campaign. In mid-October, more people expressed an unfavorable opinion of Palin (48%) than a favorable opinion (42%). Since the election, public views of Palin have shifted only slightly.

Unlike Romney, Palin’s ratings continue to be much better among conservative Republicans (80%) than among moderates and liberals in the party (62%). And while positive views of Palin have slipped among non-evangelical Republicans (from 77% to 67%), they remain overwhelmingly positive among white evangelical Republicans (84% now, 85% last October).

Notably, as was the case during the election, Palin is rated somewhat better by men than she is by women. About half of men (48%) say their overall opinion of Palin is favorable, while 40% say it is unfavorable. Among women, the picture is reversed: 48% offer an unfavorable view, 41% a favorable one. This difference largely arises from gender differences in party affiliation. For instance, among Republicans, men and women express similar views of Palin (73% favorable).

Palin receives a more favorable rating from those with a high school degree or less (48% favorable, 36% unfavorable) than she does from college graduates (41% favorable, 52% unfavorable). Regionally, she is somewhat better regarded in the South (49% favorable) than she is in the Northeast (39% favorable).

Newt Gingrich

The public also is divided in its views of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. More than a third (35%) express a favorable opinion of Gingrich, while 38% say they have an unfavorable view of him. More than a decade after resigning his House seat, Gingrich remains relatively well-known with most Americans (73%) able to offer an opinion of him.

Opinion of Gingrich breaks along partisan lines, with the views of independents falling almost equidistant from those of Republicans and Democrats. A majority of Republicans (55%) rate Gingrich favorably, 22% rate him unfavorably. Democratic views are the reverse: 21% have a favorable opinion of Gingrich while 54% take a negative view. Independents are evenly divided (37% favorable, 38% unfavorable).

As with other leading Republicans, Gingrich is rated higher by conservatives in his party than he is by Republican moderates and liberals. In addition, Gingrich is not as well-known among those younger than 30 (44% no opinion) as he is among older Americans (22% no opinion among those 30 and older).

Michael Steele: Not Widely Known

Michael Steele’s public profile is not as prominent as Palin’s, Romney’s or Gingrich’s. However, the balance of opinion among those who offer an opinion of the Republican National Committee Chairman is generally favorable. About a quarter 23% have a favorable opinion of Steele, 14% express an unfavorable opinion and a 63%-majority cannot rate him.

Positive views of Steele outnumber negative ones among both Republicans (28% to 14%) and independents (26% to 13%). Democrats who offer an opinion of Steele are evenly divided (19% favorable, 17% unfavorable). Among Republicans, Steele’s two-to-one ratio of favorable to unfavorable ratings lags well behind the balance of positive-to-negative opinion for Palin, Romney and Gingrich.

Notably, young people and African Americans are more familiar with Steele – and express more favorable opinions of him – than do older people and whites. Nearly half of those younger than 30 express an opinion of Steele – the highest percentage of any age group – and the balance of opinion is more than two-to-one favorable (33% favorable, 15% unfavorable). Older age groups express more mixed opinions of Steele.

The balance of opinion about Steele among blacks is also positive (33% favorable, 16% unfavorable). Among whites, 66% offer no opinion of Steele (compared with 51% of blacks), and just 20% have a favorable impression while 14% have an unfavorable one.

Cite this publication: “Romney’s Image Improves; Palin Well Regarded by Republican Base.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (June 24, 2009) http://www.people-press.org/2009/06/24/romneys-image-improves-palin-well-regarded-by-republican-base/, accessed on July 23, 2014.