Palin by the Numbers: Being President Doesn’t Add Up
Back in October of 2008, I penned a piece for Politico predicting that Sarah Palin, despite all the hype and frothing over her selection as the first female on a Republican presidential ticket, would never get the Republican nomination for president in the future, let alone be elected president.
I pointed out that during my lifetime (I was born in 1951, if you must know), only one non-incumbent vice presidential nominee on a losing ticket — Bob Dole, who ran with President Ford in 1976 — has ever come back to win their party’s nomination, and none has ever been elected president.
And I must say, nearly every one of the lot who fit this category was a far more substantial and distinguished figure than Palin — U.S. Ambassador to the UN and former Republican Massachusetts Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Maine’s Democratic Sen. Edmund Muskie, Kennedy in-law and first director of the Peace Corps Sargent Shriver, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, former NFL quarterback and New York Rep. Jack Kemp, Sens. Joe Lieberman and John Edwards.
It was indisputably clear even by the end of the ’08 campaign that Palin had become a major liability to John McCain. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in late October that year showed that 55 percent thought she was not qualified to be president, and that she carried the only net-negative rating (38-47) of the four major-party candidates. The same survey also found that Palin’s qualifications to be president ranked as the voters’ top concern about McCain — even ahead of his continuing George W. Bush’s policies. A New York Times/CBS News poll showed Palin with the highest negative for a vice-presidential candidate in the 28-year history of the survey — higher even than the hapless Dan Quayle’s in 1988.
And nothing has happened since 2008 that has changed my mind about Palin’s utter unelectability. In fact, the bad numbers just keep piling up. A Washington Post/ABC News poll in February of 2010 found 55 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of Palin, and only 37 percent with a favorable view — which was a new low in Post/ABC polling. Fully 71 percent of Americans believed she was unqualified to be president, including 52 percent of Republicans. Even among self-described conservatives, only 45 percent considered her qualified to be commander in chief.
Another NBC/Wall Street Journal poll during last fall’s elections showed Palin with a 9-73 unfavorable rating among Democrats, a 14-62 unfavorable rating among moderates and a 25-55 unfavorable among independents. Can you say chopped liver?
After the election, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also found nationally that having been endorsed by Palin was viewed as an overwhelming negative — in fact, worse than being endorsed by a labor union, worse than supporting the privatization of Social Security.
Fast forward to 2011. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released in January showed Palin with a 56 unfavorable, a record high. A USA Today/Gallup poll the same month found 53 percent dislike her – a new high in that poll — and that only 38 percent viewed her favorably — also a new low for her in the poll.
And perhaps the ultimate coup de grace: A Public Policy Polling survey discovered that Palin was even in the soup — er, I mean, moose stew — in her own beloved state of Alaska. Under the headline, “It’s Not Really Sarah Palin’s Alaska Anymore,” the poll showed her fellow Alaskans gave her a 58 percent negative rating, with only 33 percent viewing her favorably. Even in my home state of Montana, kind of a Lower 48 Alaska stand-in, Palin was just 44 percent favorable and 50 percent unfavorable.
As any honest consultant on either side of the aisle will tell you, these simply are not numbers or perceptions a potential candidate can reverse during the course of a campaign. Palin herself recently told a New York business group about her dismal ratings, “I obviously gotta get out there and let people know who I am, what I stand for, and what my record is.”
But her problem is the opposite. The hyper-coverage of her every act, tweet, wink and uninformed statement means that people already know who she is and what she stands for. It is crystal clear that their view of Palin has crystalized, and their fears about her lack of preparedness to be president during the campaign — her unfathomable lack of foreign travel and ignorant statement about a vice president being “in charge” of the U.S. Senate, to name two — have only been confirmed by many of her actions since the 2008 campaign. Among them? The ham-handed, self-pitying, it’s-all-about-me response to the tragic shootings in Tucson, her reference to “our North Korean allies,” her “wtf” characterization of Pres. Obama’s State of the Union address — even her tweeting the non-word “refudiate.”
Palin’s winky, smart-alecky shtick still sells with the carefully chosen, social-conservative audiences to which she speaks for astronomical fees. The numbers don’t lie, however, and the average American voter has obviously concluded that you could walk through Palin’s deepest thoughts and not get your feet wet, that she is basically the Paris Hilton of would-be presidential candidates.
But the question is, when will the mainstream media start according Palin the non-coverage suitable to a never-be-president? A poll report on Valentine’s Day got it right. Headlined “Early States Cool to Palin,” it noted that fully 50 percent of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire, the first primary state, had a negative view of her. “The data suggests,” the piece concluded, “that for all the press coverage she receives, Palin is not the GOP’s frontrunner by any empirical standard.” No kidding.
C’mon, mainstream media, I’m not asking you to join the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank, who totally foreswore any mention of Palin during February. But do your readers and viewers a favor and cover serious candidates seriously, not a nonstop reality show/book tour/speaking circuit masquerading as a possible presidential candidacy.
Garry South is a longtime Democratic strategist and commentator who has been involved in presidential campaigns since 1976.