The Palin Equation

Aug 29, 2008 3:59pm

Part of the immediate Sarah Palin spin has been to suggest that the Alaska governor’s position on the Republican ticket is a play for former supporters of Hillary Clinton. In the data, it’s hard to see.

An easier case to make, instead, is that Palin – if she has any effect at all – may help support McCain not in the center, but in the GOP base.

We’ve looked today at Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who preferred Clinton for the nomination and have not lined up “definitely” behind Obama – the movable ones. One challenge for McCain/Palin from the start is that these voters by definition are inclined toward the Democratic Party. But there are others:

-Eighty-four percent of Clinton movables classify themselves either as moderates or liberals. Just 14 percent are conservatives, as is Palin.

-Sixty-five percent in this group think abortion should be generally legal (compared with 54 percent of all Americans) and 34 percent say it should be legal in all cases. Thirty percent say it should be generally illegal; illegal in all cases, just 5 percent. Palin opposes legal abortion.

-While 56 percent in this group think Obama does not have enough experience to serve effectively as president (hence their compunctions about supporting him), an identical 56 percent also think McCain would continue in George W. Bush’s direction. And only 13 percent approve of Bush’s job performance.

-Clinton movables trust Obama over McCain on the economy – the single top issue by far – by 50-35 percent.

Six in 10 Clinton movables are women, but it’s awfully tough to argue that women will vote for a woman because she’s a woman. In the incumbent Republican romp of 1984, with Geraldine Ferraro alongside Walter Mondale on the Democratic ticket, women voted for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush by 56-44 percent.

Fundamentally, as we’ve reported previously, the top of the ticket drives the vote; we see no consistent evidence of a vice presidential nominee directly influencing vote choices. That said, the selection is a piece of the puzzle that helps people understand the presidential candidates’ thinking, and to that extent a conservative opposed to legal abortion and supportive of gun rights might reassure strong conservatives and evangelicals, core GOP groups that have viewed McCain with some skepticism.

The addition of a successful young politician may also be intended to counter concerns about McCain’s vitality, but it could run the risk of exacerbating them instead. McCain himself, discussing his v.p. pick last spring, noted “the enhanced importance of this issue given my age.”

That, as well as other possible effects, remains to be seen. And in the end this surprise selection could have been intended simply to give the McCain campaign a basic ingredient it’s had in comparatively short supply: a dash of excitement.

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