Although Senator John McCain’s initial introduction of Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate was met with criticism even from within conservative and Republican circles, Palin has boosted the enthusiasm of Republicans and is appealing to certain women voters. Smart Politics discovered nuanced reactions by women that defy narrow partisan categories in follow-up conversations with two-dozen Minnesotan women who had been interviewed in mid-August for the Humphrey Institute / Minnesota Public Radio News poll and were initially undecided or planned to vote for a third party candidate. Even among women who plan to vote for Barack Obama, Palin was respected when they were re-interviewed September 11-16. Many of these undecided women resented the media’s treatment of the Alaskan Governor.
Eight of the two-dozen women who were undecided last month now indicate they will vote for the McCain / Palin ticket. Although polls reveal that the Republican ticket is drawing few supporters of Hillary Clinton, one of the newly minted McCain supporters in the Gopher State was a 65-year old woman from Saint Paul who had backed Hillary Clinton in the primaries: “This is really hard for me – I’ve been a Democrat all my life but now I’m voting for McCain.�? Another former Clinton-turned-McCain supporter – a 63-year old from Melrose – lamented how Obama “Should have taken Hillary.�?
A handful of the women interviewed also had a generally favorable impression of Palin even though they were not backing McCain.
The Palin Appeal:
A 74 year-old woman from Avon viewed Palin as “Very, very appealing,�? and “A breath of fresh air.�? She said Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy was important because, “The public is finally getting to see what mothers do – they can juggle many things.�? A 63-year old woman from Melrose liked how Palin “calls a spade a spade.�? And a 59-year old from Elk River described Palin as “very charismatic�? and, “a real fighter.�?
But Palin has definitely rubbed some women in Minnesota the wrong way: six of the interviewees had an unfavorable impression of the Alaska Governor. (Eight of the two dozen women interviewed planned to vote for the Obama / Biden ticket.)
A few specifically pointed to the Palin selection as the reason for their shift to Obama. A 74-year old woman from Minneapolis confessed she was, “Unfortunately voting for Obama – Palin has no experience and she’s the only reason I’m voting for Obama.�? A 59-year old woman from Nevis revealed, “Palin’s selection is what tipped me to Obama. I like McCain. But I question her qualifications as I’ve heard nothing that leads me to believe she is ready to be President of the United States.�?
A 77-year old woman from Circle Pines also thought Palin should not be running for vice-president, but for a different reason: “She should be at home with her child who is handicapped and needs her.�?
But some new supporters to Obama’s camp liked Palin. For example, a 54-year old woman from Royalton praised Palin for being a “very strong woman,�? and a 72-year old Clinton-turned-Obama supporter thought she was “gutsy.�?
Palin’s speech at the Republican National Convention appeared to jump-start her appeal. Most of women voters that Smart Politics interviewed had seen Palin’s acceptance speech in St. Paul, and most were impressed. For example, a 55-year old woman from Breckinridge thought the speech displayed her “confidence and willingness to stand up for herself.�? Other women described the speech as “excellent,�? “great,�? and “impressive.�?
One woman from St. Paul was taken by the ‘maverick’ quality to Palin’s speech, “She cares about what is going on in government. She will vote for what is right, not just vote for her party.�? This reaction fits a key element of the McCain campaign strategy.
But not every woman interviewed liked Palin’s speech. A new Obama supporter said she “doesn’t like Palin’s personality. I’m sarcastic, but she is way overboard.�? One McCain supporter from Hutchinson admitted that Palin’s speech was “too anti-Democratic.�?
The Bush Turnoff:
Nearly all women interviewed (22 of 24) disapproved of President George W. Bush’s handling of his job in the White House. Many women volunteered that they “strongly�? and “heartily�? disapproved, while another describe what Bush has done to the country as “Criminal.�?
No woman interviewed for this survey (which included several self-identified Republicans) approved of Bush’s job performance; the two who did not disapprove 2 gave him “mixed�? reviews.
Mad at the Media:
Regardless of which candidate these undecided voters planned to support, most were disgusted with the media coverage of Palin’s selection. A 67-year old woman from Cambridge concluded that “the media are after her and I hate to see that – it makes it so difficult.�? Another woman from St. Paul said the media had treated Palin harshly and was “definitely prejudiced because she is a woman: ‘How is she going to run for Vice-President if she has a family?’ As if a woman should be the only one controlling the family.�?
A still undecided 55-year old female voter agreed that there was “too much focus on her family and I don’t think they would do this if she were a man.�? A former Clinton supporter concurred, “The media are as sexist with Palin as they were with Hillary.�?
Several Obama supporters were also troubled by the media coverage of Palin, especially with respect to the attention to her personal life, family, and daughter’s pregnancy. A 53-year old woman from Buffalo thought the media was “sensationalistic�? and “needs to focus on her political views.�? An Obama supporter from Rochester remarked, “They’ve gone off the deep end. The media should show more restraint and wisdom and not so much sensationalism.�? Another Obama supporter who had an unfavorable view of Palin complained that “I don’t like to see them go after the kids. OK – so the daughter is pregnant. I’m 74 years old and it was happening in my day too! Although not with me – I had four older brothers who made sure that didn’t happen.�?
One woman who supported Obama in the primaries, and is now supporting McCain, criticized the media for “putting her down and trying to make her look like she’s not good enough. But she is good enough.�?