Politics

“Political Winners” Circle Filled by Figures Close to Obama

by Lydia Saad

Americans divided in labeling Sarah Palin as a political winner or loser

PRINCETON, NJ -- In Americans' estimation, the top three political winners of 2009 are all women closely linked with the Obama administration: Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Sonia Sotomayor. Among these, Michelle Obama has the broadest support with 73% calling her a "winner" in U.S. politics this year and 21% a "loser." However, Clinton's rating is nearly as positive.

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President Barack Obama, himself, also falls in the political winners circle, although the percentage calling him a political loser is somewhat higher than is seen for the three women.

The picture is quite different for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom half of all Americans identify as a political loser. More than half say the same of Rep. Joe Wilson (the representative who yelled "You lie!" to Obama at a joint session of Congress), as well as Gov. Mark Sanford (who is losing his wife and is under a state ethics investigation over an admitted extramarital affair), White House party crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi, and the Republicans in Congress generally.

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In between the clear-cut political winners and losers are a number of public figures with more mixed reviews. Nearly half of Americans (46%) call Sarah Palin a winner, but slightly more (49%) call her a loser. About equal numbers of Americans call Ben Bernanke (Time magazine's choice for person of the year) and radio talk host Glenn Beck winners and losers, while a large segment has no opinion about either man. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid is more widely viewed as a loser than a winner, but not to as great a degree as Pelosi -- possibly in part because of his high "no opinion" rating.

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It comes as little surprise that Americans' perspective on this year's political winners and losers is highly partisan. However, beyond the basic pattern of Democrats being more likely to consider Democratic leaders "winners" and so forth, there are some interesting findings at the margins.

Democrats are much more unified in considering Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama winners (each called a winner by at least 90% of Democrats) than Republicans are in calling Sarah Palin a winner (at 76% among Republicans).

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The partisan ratings of Nancy Pelosi and the Republicans in Congress are a near mirror image of each other.

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However, Republicans and Democrats broadly agree on the classifications of Mark Sanford and the Salahi couple as political losers.

Identifying the "winners" and "losers" emerging on Election Day is clear cut, but a far more subjective assessment in the context of the political gamesmanship that goes on in between elections. Now that the presidential election in which the McCain-Palin ticket was defeated is more than a year past, Sarah Palin is nearly as likely to be viewed as a political winner as a loser. Hillary Clinton lost a bitterly fought primary for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, but has been visibly filling her role as Secretary of State and has risen above the political fray in a way the president has not, with more viewing Clinton as a political winner than Barack Obama.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,025 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 11-13, 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 landline telephones (for respondents with a landline 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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