Poll: Huge effect of Palin pick cuts both ways

— -- The selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as Republican vice presidential nominee has swayed members of her party — and the opposition — far more than any recent running mate, a USA TODAY poll shows.

More than half of Republicans surveyed — 53% — say that having Palin on the ticket makes them more likely to vote for GOP nominee John McCain. That's far more than the 20% of Republicans who said they were more likely to vote for George W. Bush in 2000 after he chose Dick Cheney as his vice president.

The intense reaction cuts both ways: More than one-third of Democrats surveyed said that Palin made them less likely to vote for McCain. That compares with 15% of Democrats who said Cheney swayed them against the Bush ticket.

The poll, taken Sept. 5-7, included 959 registered voters with a margin of error of +/—3 percentage points.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden is far less provocative: 21% of Democrats said they are more likely to vote for Barack Obama because of him, and 12% of GOP voters are less likely to vote for the Democratic ticket because of Biden.

The reaction to Palin, both pro and con, are the strongest of running mates since 2000.

Among Cheney and Democrats Joe Lieberman and John Edwards, it was Edwards, on Sen. John Kerry's ticket in 2004, who provoked the strongest reaction. He caused 35% of Democrats to look more favorably on the Kerry ticket and 13% of Republicans to be less likely to vote for them.

Palin incites strong reactions among voters because of her conservative views on "hot button" social issues such as abortion rights, and because voters still don't know a lot about her, said political scientist Joseph Pika of the University of Delaware.

"She's a cultural lightning rod," Pika said. "She's gun-toting, pro-life and a religious conservative. … She's scary to some people and a kind of a figure to be respected to others."

Palin may not sway moderate voters, but her appeal to conservative Republicans "frees McCain to campaign much more aggressively to the center," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

"A voter who disagrees with him on stem cell research or immigration might not be quite so upset when they see Palin standing next to him," said Schnur, who advised McCain's presidential campaign in 2000.

Obama spokesman Nick Shapiro said McCain chose Palin as a "political calculation" and selected "a candidate who would play to his base."

McCain spokeswoman Maria Comella said, "Voters are … responding to two proven reformers who have no problem shaking things up in Washington."

There is little evidence that a vice presidential nominee has made a difference in a presidential election since Lyndon Johnson helped John Kennedy carry Texas in 1960.

In a Gallup Poll taken after the 2004 election, for example, the choice of running mate did not show up on a list of 26 reasons voters gave for why they supported the candidate they did.

If Palin continues to evoke such strong reactions in voters, could this election be different?

"Based on past history, it's unlikely," Schnur said. "But that's no reason to dismiss the possibility."