Skepticism about Sarah Palin has soared since she entered the national political stage, with six in 10 Americans now doubting her qualifications for office and fewer than half convinced of her grasp of complex issues.
In advance of her debate against Joe Biden on Thursday, Palin now looks more like a drag than a boost to the GOP ticket: Thirty-two percent of registered voters say her selection makes them less likely to support John McCain for president, up from 19 percent last month.
Her basic ratings are weaker still.
Just 35 percent say Palin has the experience it takes to serve effectively as president, down a dozen points since early September; 60 percent think not, up 15. And just 46 percent think Palin "understands complex issues," while 49 percent think she doesn't -- a poor assessment on this most basic qualification.
Biden's ratings starkly contrast Palin's: Seventy-five percent say he understands complex issues, 70 percent say he has suitable experience to take over as president if necessary and just 13 percent say his selection makes them less apt to support Barack Obama.
In the most fundamental measure of a public figure's popularity, 51 percent now express an overall favorable opinion of Palin, down from 58 percent Sept. 7, just after the GOP convention.
While she's lost 7 points on this score, Biden's moved the other way, gaining 6 points -- 57 percent see him favorably, up from 51 percent.
Thursday's debate marks an opportunity for Palin to address these concerns, but also carries the risk of cementing them in the public's mind.
The hazard she faces is that it's generally easier to confirm preconceptions than to change them.
Palin does have one better rating, for her common touch: Fifty-eight percent of registered voters think she understands the problems of people like them. But as many, 57 percent, say the same of Biden.
In conjunction with the Republican convention overall, Palin's addition to the ticket seemed to help energize McCain's base -- enthusiasm among his supporters rose -- and to improve his position among white women, a changeable group all year but one that shifted in McCain's favor in early September.
Some of that's clearly ebbed.
White women by a 13-point margin initially said Palin's addition made them more likely rather than less likely to support the GOP ticket. That's subsided to a single point.
Among independents, Palin's presence on the ticket has gone from a 10-point net positive to an 11-point net negative.
And her reception has turned negative among another key swing group, white Catholics; they're now 19 points more apt to say Palin pushes them away from McCain than toward him.
Similarly, just 40 percent of white women now say Palin has the experience it takes to serve effectively as president, down 12 points; 56 percent think not. It's lower still among independents, 32 percent, down 17 points.
And among white Catholics the sense that Palin is qualified has plummeted from 54 percent early last month to 27 percent now. It's dropped nearly as far among non-evangelical white Protestants as well.