As she packs up the Alaska governor's mansion and pushes back against the latest ethics brouhaha, Sarah Palin's got other problems: A more negative public image than she held during the 2008 campaign – and broader questions about her grasp of complex issues.
Just 40 percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll hold a favorable opinion of Palin overall, down from a high of 58 percent shortly after she joined the GOP presidential ticket. More than half, 53 percent, now view her unfavorably.
Favorability is the most basic measure of a public figure's popularity; 40 percent – a new low for Palin – is plenty to sustain some career paths that may follow her foreshortened term as governor – public speaker, author, broadcast personality. But for national politics, it's a challenge.
ATTRIBUTES – The tide also runs against Palin on two basic personal attributes. Fifty-seven percent don't think she "understands complex issues," 8 points higher than last fall and a serious handicap in perceived qualification for high office. Fifty-four percent also don't see her as a strong leader; her 40 percent rating for leadership lags, for comparison, 31 points behind Obama's.
Palin does better on being "honest and trustworthy," albeit with a tepid 52 percent rating. And she gets split decisions on being someone who "shares your values" (48-47 percent) or "understands the problems of people like you" (47-47 percent). Her empathy rating started 11 points higher last September, but fell within her first month on the public stage, after criticism of her $150,000 in wardrobe and related expenses.
Palin announced July 3 she was resigning as Alaska's governor, effective Sunday, with nearly a year and a half left in her term, saying she had decided not to seek re-election and could not be sufficiently effective as a lame duck. She's been forced to respond to numerous ethics complaints, running up a reported half-million dollars in legal bills; while most have been dismissed, a preliminary report from a state investigator, disclosed this week, raised questions – which she disputes – about the structure of her legal defense fund. In another matter, a legislative panel last October said she had abused her powers as governor by trying to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from the state patrol.
Name recognition clearly figures heavily in such early-stage measurements; figures who were not on the primary or general election ballot in 2008 (this poll mentioned Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush, Tim Pawlenty and Haley Barbour) come in considerably lower.
Other results underscore Palin's far better standing in her party than outside it. Seventy percent of Republicans view her positively overall. That dives to 40 percent of independents and 20 percent of Democrats.