Voter opinion of Palin declining ahead of VP debate: polls

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is readying for Thursday's faceoff with Democratic rival Joe Biden as new polls indicate growing doubt over whether she is ready for what the job might hold.
Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, left, will debate Democratic candidate Joe Biden in St. Louis Thursday night. ((Canadian Press))

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is readying for Thursday's faceoff with Democratic rival Joe Biden as new polls indicate growing doubt over whether she is ready for what the job might hold.

Palin, 44, faces increasing skepticism over whether she is ready to serve as president should there be cause for her accession, particularly in the aftermath of a series of exclusive television interviews.

Just 25 per cent of likely voters think Palin has the right experience to be president, according to an Associated Press-Gfk poll released Wednesday. That number is down from 41 per cent who expressed confidence in the first-term Alaska governor following her appearance at the GOP convention last month.

Republicans increasingly wary

The poll indicated even Republican-leaning voters were increasingly suspicious of her abilities, with 47 per cent saying she has the right experience to be president, down from 75 per cent in the earlier survey.

The poll of 808 likely voters was conducted Saturday through Tuesday and had a sampling error of 3.4 percentage points.

A similar poll, conducted by the Pew Research Centre, also found support for Palin was slipping.

Of the 1,505 Americans surveyed, 63 per cent said Biden was qualified to serve as president if necessary, while 37 per cent said the same of Palin. 

"Compared with public opinion immediately following Palin's nomination and convention speech, far fewer now hold the view that she is qualified to be president. More than half (52%) viewed her as qualified earlier in the month," the Pew poll results read.

The Pew poll sampling error was plus or minus 3.0 percentage points.

Support stable for Biden

While Biden's favourability has remained fairly stable since a poll last month, unfavourable opinion of Palin has grown eight percentage points, the poll suggested.

Biden, 65, is chairman of the U.S. Senate's foreign relations committee. His foreign policy expertise had been held up as one of the major assets he brings to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign.

The senator was reportedly preparing for the debate near his home in Wilmington, Del., although he is scheduled to appear at a Senate vote on the $700-billion US financial bailout plan in Washington on Wednesday night.

Palin, who is said to have attracted elements of the Republican base who were wary of presidential candidate John McCain, was preparing for the debate at her running mate's retreat in Sedona, Ariz.

Just the second female vice-presidential candidate from a major party in U.S. history, Palin has been hailed as a maverick politician, a term often associated with McCain, for taking on the political establishment, including members of her own party.

Expectations low for Palin

She has taken a public relations beating, however, following interviews broadcast this week in which she offered vague, rambling answers on a variety of topics, including the U.S. economy and foreign policy.

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"I guess the economic crisis has woken Americans up to the fact that they might actually need someone who can lead and govern one of the largest economies in the world."

--King Gong

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For instance, Palin cited Russia's close physical proximity to Alaska as evidence of her foreign policy experience.

"It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border," Palin said in an exclusive interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric.

Some observers have raised questions about how well-informed she is on issues pertinent to her possible future post, many of which will be raised during Thursday's debate.

"[T]he expectations are set so low for her, she could fake everyone out," said Scott Reed, who managed the presidential campaign of Republican Bob Dole in 1996.

"Palin needs to clear the bar and reframe the debate around Barack Obama and his tax-and-spend record," he said. "She's got to show a grasp on the issues and she's got to talk about Obama. Most importantly, she's a reformer. She's got to get back to that."

With expectations of Palin so low, others suggest that it is Biden — also known for his verbal missteps, including a recent statement erroneously citing Frankin D. Roosevelt as president of the U.S. during the stock market crash of 1929 — who is at greater risk of losing face in the debate.

"Not much attention has been pointed towards Biden's gaffes and misstatements but Sarah Palin only gets partial credit there," David Steinberg, director of the University of Miami's debate team, said Wednesday.

"Let's face it — he's on the side that's popular. The media has not been nearly as critical of him as they've been of Palin. And because of that, Biden has the most to lose in this debate."

The 90-minute exchange, scheduled for 9 p.m. ET at Washington University St. Louis, will be hosted by Gwen Ifill of PBS. The U.S. presidential vote is on Nov. 4.

With files from the Canadian and the Associated Press