Alaskans Support Palin but Concede Biden’s Strengths

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The first and 49th states have many differences but also have a few things in common, not least of all that each is putting forward a vice presidential candidate for a major political party. And while Delawareans and Alaskans have very different views of Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Republican Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, some of those views are due less to geography than to party, and on a few surprising points they agree.

According to the most recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, the two states are mirror opposites in their presidential preferences: Alaskans favor Arizona Sen. John McCain by 55%-37% over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, while Delawareans favor Obama over McCain 56%-36%. Majorities of men and women favor McCain in Alaska, while majorities of men and women favor Obama in Delaware. Even younger voters in the two states differ: Voters under 45, and even those under 30, favor Republican John McCain in Alaska and the same age groups favor Democrat Barack Obama in Delaware. 

But geographical differences don’t necessarily make for political differences across the board.  While 81% of Delawareans say the country is on the wrong track, 73% of Alaskans agree.  While 70% of First Staters disapprove of the way President Bush is handling his job, a majority of Alaskans (58%) do as well.  A majority in each state also say they are pro-choice on the issue of abortion.  What the two states really show is the power of party identification: Better than eight of 10 Alaskan and Delawarean Democrats favor Obama, while nearly nine of 10 Republicans in both states favor McCain. 

“The old strategy of choosing a vice president was to pick someone whose political machine could deliver a populous state,” said Peter Woolley, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and director of the poll. “The new strategy is to choose someone whose background and views provide popular appeal to a segment of voters across the country. But no one expected to have two vice presidential candidates from small states at opposite ends of the continent.”

Alaskan and Delawarean views of Palin and Biden predictably mirror one another on some points, but surprisingly not all. They each see their home state candidate in a favorable light: Alaskans have a favorable opinion of Palin (62%-28%), while Delawareans have a favorable opinion of Biden by a similar margin (65%-25%), somewhat improved from a year ago during his bid for the presidency.  But it should  be noted that Alaskan Democrats have an unfavorable view of Palin (61%-25%) and a very favorable view of Biden (72%-5%) while Delaware Republicans have an unfavorable view of Biden (58%-30%) and a favorable view of Palin (78%-7%).

Alaskans also say Palin is better described as “honest, trustworthy” (50%-28%) than is Biden, while Delawareans say it’s Biden (52%-25%).  Likewise, Alaskans say Palin better understands the concerns of the average person (61%-26%) while Delawareans say Biden (55%-32%) does.  Alaskans also say Palin “gets the job the done” (56%-27%), while First Staters say it’s Biden who is more effective (56%-28%).  And each state gives its local candidate the edge on developing the nation’s future energy policy: 58%-28% for Palin among Alaskans and 51%-31% for Biden among Delaware’s voters.

When it comes to the “background and experience to be a good president,” Alaskans concede: They give the edge to Biden 43%-37%, while Delawareans agree 69%-18%.  Likewise, Alaskan voters say Biden is “better equipped to handle an unexpected international crisis” (44%-32%), and Delawareans agree 73%-14%.  Voters in both states hesitate to give a decisive edge on the question of who is better equipped to “clean up the problems on Wall Street.”  On that timely question, Alaskans split 35%-30% for Palin but 33% say “neither” or “don’t know,” while Delawareans say it’s Biden who can clean up Wall Street  (44%-20%), but another 34% say “neither” or “don’t know.” 

“Alaskans support Palin,” said Woolley. “But at the same time that they are aware of her early political successes, they are aware of her brief political history.”

Nearly three out of four Delawareans (73%) say Biden was a good pick for vice president but that number declines to 64% when asked whether he would make a good president.  Even so, when asked the same question a year ago (Oct. 2007), Delaware voters split evenly, with 41% saying he’d make a good president and 41% saying he wouldn’t.  Meanwhile, a majority of Alaskans say Palin is a good pick for vice president (61%), but that number declines to 49% when Alaskans are asked whether she’d make a good president.

Delaware Republicans are more hesitant than Alaskan Republicans to conclude that Palin would make a good president: Three of four Alaskan Republicans say she would, but fewer than three in five Delaware Republicans agree.  Alaskan men, by just a five-to-four margin (52%-38%), say Palin would make a good president, while Alaskan women split one-to-one (46%-46%) on that question.

Both states have female governors.  However, Delaware’s Ruth Ann Minner, a Democrat, is unpopular, with 49% disapproving of the job she’s doing compared to just 38% approving. Moreover, half of Delaware’s voters (49%) say the state is on the wrong track compared to 42% who say it’s on the right track.

By comparison, regardless of how Alaskans think Palin would fare as president, they give their governor strong approval ratings. A majority (56%) approve “strongly” of the job she does as governor and another 21% approve “somewhat.”  Just 16% disapprove.  Even Democrats in Alaska give her high marks as governor, with 57% approving and 33% disapproving. 

“She’s practically off the charts,” said Woolley. “Most governors would be happy to have that kind of approval among all voters. And most governors have to settle on maintaining that kind of approval only among their own party. To have it from the opposite party is a phenomenon,” he said.

In neither case do the women governors catch a break from women voters, nor are they penalized by men.  Men and women are equally disapproving of Minner in Delaware and about equally approving of Palin in Alaska.  “In both states, voters are judging their governors partly on the basis of party preference and partly on the merits, but not on gender,” said Woolley.

Another point of disagreement between the two states is that Alaskans are quite sure they prefer to have their governor as a dinner guest rather than Joe Biden by a big margin of 63%-23%.  Delawareans favor their senator for dinner over the distant governor, but not by much (48%-36%).

Alaskans and Delawareans do agree on which candidate would make the better guest on the television show “Saturday Night Live.” Alaskans are sure Palin would be better on the popular show (61%-13%); Delawareans agree by 48%-27%.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll includes 601 randomly selected likely voters statewide in Delaware and another 601 likely voters statewide in Alaska. Both surveys were conducted by telephone from September 17 through September 21 and have a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points for each population.

Contacts: Peter Woolley 973.670.3239 Dan Cassino 973.896.7072

For more information, please call (973) 443-8661.

Copyright © 2008, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 080924]