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Posted by on Sep 5, 2008 in Politics | 11 comments

Mixed News For Republicans: McCain TV Ratings Higher Than Obama’s And Palin Polls Conflict

The Republican party got a double-whammy of potentially-good news today: Republican Presidential nominee Sen. John McCain’s TV ratings soared beyond even Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama’s — and a new poll shows Mccain’s Veep pick Gov. Sarah Palin is better-liked than McCain or Obama.

But there was some not-so-good news: according to yet another poll, Palin is proving to be a partisan acquired taste and probably hasn’t been a huge boost to the McCain ticket except among Republicans.

Meanwhile, there are some other potential wrinkles in this new top-line silk suit: McCain’s speech got some tepid reviews (even from some Republicans) and, even with some negative initial press coverage since Palin is a new commodity on the national political scene, she will most certainly going to be subject to vigorous media vetting and — eventually — tough questioning (even if the GOP tries to keep her largely under wraps).

The tidbits of good news for the Republicans that should cause some concern in Democratic quarters. Details:

#1: McCain’s TV ratings were big B.O. (Variety lingo for Box Office):

Presidential candidate John McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention drew more television viewers than his rival Barack Obama attracted at the Democratic party’s event last week, according to preliminary ratings from Nielsen Media Research.

Across all broadcast networks Thursday, Sen. McCain’s speech ended the night with a 4.8 rating/7 share, compared to Sen. Obama’s 4.3/7 average, according to overnight numbers from metered households in 55 U.S. markets measured by Nielsen. These ratings are preliminary, however, and are subject to change.

NBC’s coverage of Sen. McCain’s speech started directly at the tail end of the opening game of NFL season, with the speech pulling in a 6.3 rating/10 share, topping Sen. Obama’s speech last week by 26%. That lead-in may have boosted audiences who last night turned out in droves to watch Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin introduce herself to the country.

#2: Palin is a hit, according to Rasmussen Reports:

A week ago, most Americans had never heard of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Now, following a Vice Presidential acceptance speech viewed live by more than 40 million people, Palin is viewed favorably by 58% of American voters. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 37% hold an unfavorable view of the self-described hockey mom.

The figures include 40% with a Very Favorable opinion of Palin and 18% with a Very Unfavorable view. Before her acceptance speech, Palin was viewed favorably by 52%. A week ago, 67% had never heard of her.

The new data also shows significant increases in the number who say McCain made the right choice and the number who say Palin is ready to be President. Generally, John McCain’s choice of Palin earns slightly better reviews than Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden.

But there’s more:

Perhaps most stunning is the fact that Palin’s favorable ratings are now a point higher than either man at the top of the Presidential tickets this year. As of Friday morning, Obama and McCain are each viewed favorably by 57% of voters. Biden is viewed favorably by 48%.

There is a strong partisan gap when it comes to perceptions of Palin. Eighty-nine percent (89%) of Republicans give her favorable reviews along with 33% of Democrats and 59% of voters not affiliated with either major party.

Bottom line: a larger number of independent voters liked Palin than didn’t like her. And it’s going to be the independents who’ll hold the key to the White House.

However, Palin’s been a household name on the national scene for about a week. The media scrutiny isn’t over yet and the Democrats haven’t yet dispatched their surrogates to take on Palin. One of them will likely be Sen. Hillary Clinton.

#3. ABC reports a mixed public reception to Palin. She’s perceived in a highly-partisan way, and more Americans have doubts about her experience. She is boosting McCain mostly among GOP partisans:

Sarah Palin is receiving a highly partisan reception on the national political stage, with significant public doubts about her readiness to serve as president, yet majority approval of both her selection by John McCain and her willingness to join the Republican ticket.

Given the sharp political divisions she inspires, Palin’s initial impact on vote preferences and on views of McCain looks like a wash, and, contrary to some prognostication, she does not draw disproportionate support from women. But she could potentially assist McCain by energizing the GOP base, in which her reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

Half of Americans have a favorable first impression of Palin, 37 percent unfavorable, with the rest undecided. Her positive ratings soar to 85 percent among Republicans, 81 percent among her fellow evangelical white Protestants and 74 percent of conservatives. Just a quarter of Democrats agree, with independents in the middle.

Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, is similarly rated, with slightly fewer unfavorable views and partisanship running in the opposite direction.

And the impact?

The public by a narrow 6-point margin, 25 percent to 19 percent, says Palin’s selection makes them more likely to support McCain, less than the 12-point positive impact of Biden on the Democratic ticket (22 percent more likely to support Barack Obama, 10 percent less so). But majorities in both cases say the vice presidential picks won’t matter in their vote, and those who do report an impact chiefly are reflecting their existing partisan predispositions.

What does all of this mean?

1. Beware of quick conventional wisdom on this race. You can see here that quoting one poll may be only part of the story.

2. The jury is still out on Palin. The public will now look closer at her. The question for McCain is whether she will bring in independent voters and/or Hillary Clinton supporters or her main role will be to excite the party base and energize Republican women to flock to the polls.

3. The Democrats have to be careful how they handle her, not because she’s a woman, but because a large chunk of the public has reacted to her favorably. This doesn’t mean they can’t aggressively campaign against her, but going over the line could boomerang.

4. McCain’s ratings are good news IF the public liked the speech. If the public’s response was as tepid as some pundits and bloggers (not counting the ones who can be counted on to praise everything a Republican says or damn every thing a Republican says) it could have been a lost opportunity. And what did voters hear from the speech?