The selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate hit a political "sweet spot," exciting the Republican base, riling the Democratic camp, and igniting a media frenzy, all the while holding out a certain appeal in Middle America, where she has the potential to draw white working-class voters and Hillary Clinton devotees into the GOP tent.
But John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute also points to a new poll that suggests "the Sarah Palin phenomenon may have passed." A CBS News/New York Times poll published Thursday shows that McCain's convention bounce has dissipated and support for Palin has dropped. Her favorable rating is at 40 percent, down four points from last week, while her unfavorable rating stands at 30 percent, having risen eight points in the same period. Among women, Palin's favorable rating has fallen 11 points in the past week, the poll said.
Fortier said the survey may indicate that the early Palin phenomenon "is dying down, or (the nation's) financial troubles are asserting themselves." He reminded, though, that voters traditionally don't cast their ballot based on who's in the No. 2 spot.
"It's just like when somebody wins American Idol. There's very strong interest in that person for a while, then that fades," says AEI political scientist Norman Ornstein, commenting on Palin's slippage. A key indicator about whether that holds will be whether more Americans than usual tune in Oct. 2 for the vice presidential debate, he said.
AEI's Karlyn Bowman observed that first impressions of secondary characters in politics are very important. She said that explains why so many people watched Palin's speech at the GOP convention. Most people, Bowman said, "make up their minds and move on. They don't pay a lot of attention to the follow-up stories."
According to polls analyzed by AEI, nearly 7 in 10 people gave Palin high marks for her convention speech—roughly the same number who think she did the right thing by getting into the race, even though she has young children. But the Alaska governor quickly became controversial, leading her unfavorability ratings to rise, the experts say.
Fortier and other political scientists spoke Thursday at the think tank, where Ornstein observed that Palin gets his vote, at least in one respect. "Sarah Palin's choice did electrify the country," he said. "I believe she's the prettiest vice presidential choice since John Edwards."