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Category: Politics

Pollsters Grapple With a Sarah Surge

| September 15, 2008

Tracking the women’s vote in this historic presidential election is proving to be tricky.

The Sarah Surge is unmistakable. GOP presidential nominee John McCain’s support rose markedly after he named Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate—although after two solid weeks of Palin-all-the-time media attention, McCain still hasn’t broken 50 percent.

Republicans now are far more fervent backers of McCain, a candidate that the religious right and social conservatives opposed in past races and were lukewarm about in this one. Post-Palin, Republicans’ strong backing of McCain nearly has doubled, from 39 percent in July to 71 percent in September, in a Newsweek poll.

Palin also appears to generate a backlash. The Newsweek poll showed that 29 percent of all voters said Palin would make them more likely to vote for McCain but 22 percent said it made them less likely.

It’s hard to decipher the path of voters who had strongly backed Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

One widely quoted Clinton activist who had criticized the Democratic Party’s treatment of Hillary last summer and had publicly backed McCain now has withdrawn that support. Reba Shimansky said in a statement that “the Palin selection may have energized the GOP base but it hurts him with independents. I would have voted for McCain if he made a sensible choice for VP like Ridge, which would have shown that he was willing to stand up to the rightwing crackpots in his party.” Now, she’ll sit out the general election.

Some national polls—notably a Washington Post-ABC survey late last week—showed a big movement of white women from Obama to McCain. That was not reflected in another national survey by pollsters at the Wall Street Journal/NBC.  The Gallup pollsters entered the fray to say that in their daily overnight tracking polls, they have not detected any major movement by female voters.

Just before the Democratic convention, in Gallup’s August 20-22 survey, white women broke 47-40 percent for McCain over Obama.

After the unveiling of Palin and her speech to the GOP convention, the support of white women moved up slightly toward McCain, 51-40, in the September 5-8 survey, with no loss in backing for Obama. That resembled the movement by white men for McCain, which went from 56-36 to 59-34 percent in the same time period. The Newsweek poll this weekend showed a bigger bounce for McCain among white women: from 44 to 39 percent in July to 53 to 37 percent in early September.

Only now is Palin becoming known to the general population. She got off-the-chart applause for her convention speech, delivering sarcasm and zingers with a self-confidence she also showed in her first national TV interview with Charles Gibson.

Activists on both sides are the first to respond, knowing her personal views and, to a lesser extent, her record as mayor and as governor. The social conservatives are signing up in droves to volunteer for McCain-Palin. Feminist activists and those on the center-left began donating in record amounts to the Obama-Biden campaign, raising its fundraising take for August to $66 million.

Another insight to the Palin phenomena comes from the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

Palin gets higher favorable marks from men than women. Their recent survey shows that 45 percent of men rate her favorably, 31 percent unfavorably. Women hold a 42 percent favorable, 36 percent unfavorable view.

There definitely is a gender breakdown by race and marital status, however.

Married women give Palin a favorable vote by 49 percent, versus 37 percent who don’t like her. It’s the reverse for women who never married, are divorced or widowed: 32 percent like her, 38 percent don’t.

Greenberg Quinlan also finds the same slight movement to McCain of older white women. He leads among white married women, 55-42 percent, and unmarried women back Obama by a narrowing margin, 49-45 percent.

But national tracking polls tell only part of the story. A poll of swing states by Quinnipiac University showed Palin had minimal impact in states where the economy is tough, such as Ohio.  Palin was helping McCain expand his lead in Florida and narrow the margin in Pennsylvania, but Obama was holding his own in Ohio and still leading in Pennsylvania.

And, in Ohio, Palin had a favorability rating of only 41 percent.

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