John Edwards, Sarah Palin Both See Favorable Ratings Slide

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Edwards’ popularity down 27 points since January 2008

PRINCETON, NJ -- Former presidential and vice presidential candidate John Edwards, embroiled in personal scandal, is rated favorably by 21% of Americans and unfavorably by 59%. This is the first time more Americans have viewed Edwards negatively than positively, and reflects a 27-point drop in his favorable rating from Gallup's prior measurement in January 2008.

Trend: Favorable Ratings of John Edwards

Edwards' favorable rating peaked at 59% in late July/early August 2004, after his nomination as John Kerry's vice presidential running mate at the Democratic National Convention that year. He averaged a 50% favorable rating from that point until he ended his subsequent 2008 presidential bid in January of that year.

"Palin's ratings have not recovered, and her current 40% favorable rating is the lowest for her since she became widely known."

Now, following his admission that that he had an extramarital affair during his 2008 presidential campaign and allegations that Edwards' campaign made illegal payments to his mistress, Edwards' favorable rating has dropped 27 percentage points. Gallup has never before found as steep a decline in consecutive measurements of a prominent figure using the favorable/unfavorable format, which it began using in 1992.

Largest Declines in Favorable Ratings Between Measurements, Gallup Polls, 1992-2009

The prior steepest declines were 24-point drops for the Rev. Jesse Jackson from 1999 to 2000 and baseball player Sammy Sosa from 1998 to 2003. Jackson's high 70% favorable rating in 1999 came after successful diplomatic missions to Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone in the spring of that year; his favorable score settled to a more typical 46% reading for him in late 2000. Thus, his 24-point drop was more due to the disappearance of his "bounce" than to an increasingly negative evaluation of him. However, that is not the case for Sosa, whose 83% rating in 1998 came after a season in which he and Mark McGwire battled to break Roger Maris' single-season home-run record, but who in 2003 was suspended for illegally doctoring his bat.

Gallup has seen larger declines in public figures' images in non-consecutive polls. For example, George W. Bush's favorable rating fell from 87% shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to 32% in his final year in office, a change of 55 points. Jackson's rating dropped to as low as 33% in March 2001 after Jackson admitted he fathered a child out of wedlock, a total drop of 37 points from his high. Rudy Giuliani experienced a 32-point decline spanning December 2006 to January 2008.

Edwards is far from the most reviled figure Gallup has polled about. His 57% unfavorable rating is well below those Gallup has measured for Osama bin Laden (97%), Saddam Hussein (96%), Mark Fuhrman (87%), Fidel Castro (83%), Monica Lewinsky (82%), and Yasser Arafat (80%). The highest unfavorable rating for a U.S. politician is 79% for David Duke.

While Edwards' national political career is most certainly finished, another former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, may be just beginning hers. Palin became a bit of a sensation after John McCain tapped her as his running mate last August. But over the course of the campaign, her image suffered, going from a 53% favorable rating immediately after the 2008 Republican National Convention to 42% by the end of the campaign.

Palin's ratings have not recovered, and her current 40% favorable rating is the lowest for her since she became widely known after last year's Republican convention.

Trend: Favorable Ratings of Sarah Palin

Despite the increasingly negative views of Palin overall, she is still seen as a possible contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Indeed, when Gallup tested a field of possible GOP candidates, Palin was competitive with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee for the lead.

Palin could compete for the 2012 nomination because she is still widely liked by Republicans -- 69% have a favorable opinion of her while only 25% view her unfavorably. But she may have difficulty succeeding in the general election, given that Democrats have overwhelmingly negative opinions of her, and independents view her more negatively than positively.

Favorable Ratings of Sarah Palin, by Political Party

Bottom Line

John Edwards in part used his 2004 vice presidential nomination as a springboard to a run for the presidency in 2008. After it became clear that the Democrats' choice would come down to Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, he magnanimously suspended his campaign to let those two battle it out. Later that year, his scandal surfaced, and his image has suffered greatly as a result.

Palin may follow a similar path of moving from vice presidential candidate in one presidential election cycle to presidential candidate in the next. She has stayed in the news since the 2008 campaign ended, with her surprise decision to resign as governor earlier this year perhaps attracting the most attention. While Edwards was able to maintain a positive image between the 2004 and 2008 elections, Palin so far has not been able to do the same from the end of the 2008 campaign until now, with her favorable rating now down to 40%.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,013 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 1-4, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 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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