Politics

Michelle Obama’s Speech Could Make a Difference

by Frank Newport

Fifty-two percent say president’s spouse important to their vote decision

PRINCETON, NJ -- Michelle Obama's prime-time speech Monday night at the Democratic Convention in Denver could in theory have an effect on the election; over half of Americans say a presidential candidate's spouse is an important factor in their vote.

Overall, Republicans are slightly more likely to say the candidate's spouse matters than are Democrats.

Michelle Obama will be making her speech before a national audience that has significantly more favorable than unfavorable views of the Harvard law graduate who has been married to Barack Obama since 1992. Michelle Obama's favorables are more than twice as high as her unfavorables, and only 22% of Americans say they have never heard of her or don't know enough about her to have an opinion.

Over the summer, Michelle Obama's favorable ratings have increased slightly, and her unfavorable ratings have gone down.

Although Michelle Obama's name identification is lower than that of her husband, Barack, the ratio of favorable to unfavorable impressions of the two Obamas is roughly comparable. In short, at this juncture in the campaign, Michelle Obama does not appear to have a distinctly different overall image in the eyes of Americans than does her husband.

Michelle Obama is a little better known than presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's wife Cindy, who has a 67% name ID compared to Obama's 78%. The overall ratio of favorable to unfavorable opinions of the two possible first ladies is roughly comparable. (Cindy McCain is scheduled to speak next Wednesday night at the Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minn.)

Michelle Obama is (naturally) better known and has a much more positive image among Democrats than among Republicans. However, it appears that Michelle Obama has engendered more negative reactions from those who identify with the opposing party than is the case for Cindy McCain. Almost half of Republicans and Republican leaners say they have an unfavorable opinion of Michelle Obama, compared to just a third of Democrats and Democratic leaners who say they have an unfavorable opinion of Cindy McCain.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,023 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 21-23, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 506 Democrats or Democratic leaners, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. For results based on the sample of 441 Republicans or Republican leaners, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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