News Interest Index: Views of Palin Fluid as Spotlight Remains on GOP Ticket

  • September 18, 2008

Sarah Palin continued to be a dominant factor in presidential campaign coverage last week, but her impact on the race remains unclear and her public image is very much in flux.

Palin clearly has boosted John McCain's visibility. From mid-June through the last week of August, Barack Obama consistently led McCain as the candidate the public was hearing the most about in the news. McCain received an expected bump following the Republican convention, but he continued to top Obama last week as 41% pointed to McCain as the more visible candidate while 32% named Obama. Notably, 17% said they had been hearing the most about Palin – even though they were specifically asked to name a presidential candidate.

According to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, stories revolving around Palin accounted for 50% of the campaign coverage newshole last week. And as the public learns more about her, opinions about Palin are changing. Three-in-ten (31%) say their view of her has become more favorable in recent days, while nearly as many (27%) say their opinion has become less favorable. Only 37% say their opinion of Palin has not changed in recent days.

A solid majority (67%) heard at least a little about Palin's recent interview with ABC News. While a plurality of those who heard about the interview (40%) said Palin did a good job, relatively few (12%) rated her performance as excellent.

With his heightened visibility, views about McCain have become more fluid as well, even as opinions of Obama and Joe Biden have largely remained stable. More than half of the public says their opinion of McCain has changed in recent days – with slightly more saying their view has become more favorable (28%) rather than less favorable (25%). Fewer than half (45%) say their opinion of the Arizona senator has not changed lately.

In contrast, nearly six-in-ten (58%) say their opinion of Obama has not changed in recent days. Some 20% say they their opinion of the Democratic nominee has become more favorable in recent days, while an equal percentage say their view of Obama has become less favorable. Similarly, 58% say their view of Biden has not changed in recent days. Among those whose opinions have changed, slightly more say their view of Obama's running mate has become less favorable (18%) than more (14%).

Read the full report Views of Palin Fluid as Spotlight Remains on GOP Ticket on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Web site.