Election 2008

Polls Show Palin Is Starting to Drag Down McCain

The intense focus to reveal the truth about Sarah Palin's credentials has taken its toll on her numbers.

No one can doubt that McCain's choice of Palin rejuvenated a listless, dying campaign. She excited the Theocon Right and brought them home, and being a fresh new face with an interesting bio, she captivated the nation's attention. Her initial numbers were sky high, and she packed them in for McCain. Suddenly, what had been a large Obama post-DNCC bounce turned on a dime, and Palin delivered a huge surge for her ticket.

Bloggers and tradmed reporters took a hard look at Sarah Palin and began raking her over the coals for myriad transgressions. She is a liar with theocratic tendencies, sports an intellect that makes Bush look like a Mensa member, and features an obvious fondness for Cheney-style abuses of power. And that's not even the worst of it.

But then the worriers began to question, "Why are we focusing on Palin? McCain is getting a pass! We're tilting at windmills, since she's too popular to damage!" We were told to stop talking altogether about Palin, as if ignoring her would remove the spell she had cast on America. This Andrew Sullivan post must've been emailed to me two dozen times by panicked worrywarts. A few bad polls, and people seemed to be losing their minds and sense.

But we continued to focus on Palin. Republicans were busy trying to build a positive narrative about Palin -- the "hockey mom" who was so folksy she could "field dress a moose" and had "said no to the Bridge to Nowhere and other government waste" and was overflowing with "small town values." McCain had shot up in the polls because of Palin. Common sense dictated it would be hard to knock him back down as long as she consolidated her popularity. So we set out to build the negative narratives about Palin. This is stuff straight out of Taking on the System. I have a whole chapter on it, in fact.

So we focused heavily on Palin, and make no mistake, it's exactly that intense focus that has taken its toll on her numbers:

Approve Disapprove No Opinion

9/11:    52       35        13     +17
9/12:    51       37        12     +14
9/13:    49       40        11     +9
9/14:    47       42        11     +5
9/15:    47       43        10     +4
9/16:    45       44        11     +1
9/17:    44       45        11     -1
9/18:    42       46        11     -4

That's a shocking 18 21-point collapse in a single week. She went from being just about the most popular person on the top of the ticket, to the (lipstick wearing?) goat. And it's not just our Research 2000 polling showing this collapse.

In the three days after Palin joined Team McCain--Aug. 29-31--32 percent of voters told the pollsters at Diageo/Hotline that they had a favorable opinion of her; most (48 percent) didn't know enough to say [..] By Sept. 4, however, 43 percent of Diageo/Hotline respondents approved of Palin with only 25 percent disapproving--an 18-point split. Apparently, voters were liking what they were hearing. Four days later, Palin's approval rating had climbed to 47 percent (+17), and by Sept. 13 it had hit 52 percent. The gap at that point between her favorable and unfavorable numbers--22 percent--was larger than either McCain's (+20) or Obama's (+13).

But then a funny thing happened: Palin seems to have lost some of her luster. Since Sept. 13, Palin's unfavorables have climbed from 30 percent to 36 percent. Meanwhile, her favorables have slipped from 52 percent to 48 percent. That's a three-day net swing of -10 points, and it leaves her in the Sept. 15 Diageo/Hotline tracking poll tied for the smallest favorability split (+12)** of any of the Final Four. [UPDATE: The Sept. 17 Diageo/Hotline tracking poll shows Palin at 47 percent favorable and 37 percent unfavorable--an even narrower +10 split.] Over the course of a single weekend, in other words, Palin went from being the most popular White House hopeful to the least.

The trendline is indisputable (it was just picked up by CBS). And just as Palin's initial popularity bolstered McCain, her sudden faltering is now bringing him back down to earth. You might have even noticed that the latest round of McCain ads don't even feature her or refer to "McCain/Palin." It's back to just "McCain." She was starting to drag him down.

Palin will continue to excite and energize the wingnut base. She was designed for that purpose, and won't fail at that task. But her cratering popularity now hampers McCain's efforts to expand beyond that core base.

All of this is happening because we did not relent on Palin, blocking Republican efforts to paint her in a positive light. The results are speaking for themselves.

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Markos Moulitsas is founder of the political blog Daily Kos and coauthor of "Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics" (Chelsea Green Publishing).