Analysis: Impact of Personal Characteristics on Candidate Support

by Frank Newport and Joseph Carroll

Americans most comfortable voting for a black or female candidate

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A great deal of attention has been paid to the personal characteristics of potential presidential candidates and the impact of these traits on the candidates' chances of winning the White House. These considerations are particularly interesting this year because the various potential candidates have a wide variety of traits heretofore not seen in a U.S. president: a woman (Hillary Clinton), a Mormon (Mitt Romney), a black person (Barack Obama), someone 72 years old (John McCain), and thrice-married (Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich). Three of these five characteristics describe potential Republican candidates (Mormon, aged 72, thrice-married), while two describe potential Democratic candidates (woman, black).

For many years, Gallup polls have tracked the public's views on electing a female or a black president. This year, Gallup has updated the public's reactions to race and gender, and added in other of the traits listed above. (See Related Items for more details).

The basic pattern of reactions to the five key traits are as followed, based on an aggregated sample involving a total of over 2,000 interviews conducted in two surveys (Feb. 9-11, 2007 and March 2-4, 2007).

Of significant interest is the relationship between specific subgroups of the U.S. population, based on demographic and political variables, and reactions to these presidential candidate characteristics. There is a natural interest, for example, in the question of whether or not women are more or less likely than men to support a female president. Are older Americans more accepting of an older president? And what are Republicans' reactions to the traits specific to Republican candidates?

The following tables -- based on the combined samples as described above -- illustrate how different groups of Americans feel about voting for presidential candidates of different backgrounds. In all instances, the question wording described the candidate as one who was an "otherwise well-qualified candidate" nominated by the person's party but who happened to be [characteristic]. The results show not only the percentages of who would vote for the described candidate and who would not, but also the results of a follow-up question that separated those who said they would vote for a candidate into those who would feel "completely comfortable" and those who would vote, but "with reservations." Each table is followed by a listing of key points.

 

Vote for Female Presidential Candidate?
Feb.-Mar. 2007

 

Completely comfortable voting for

Would vote for, with reservations

Total Would vote for

Would not vote for

 

%

%

%

%

Gender

       

Men

78

11

89

11

Women

76

12

88

11

         

Age

       

18-29

76

15

91

9

30-49

82

9

91

8

50-64

79

11

90

9

65 and older

66

13

79

20

         

Gender and Age

       

Men, aged 18-49

80

10

90

9

Men, aged 50 and older

75

11

86

13

Women, aged 18-49

81

11

92

8

Women, aged 50 and older

71

13

84

15

         

Party Affiliation

       

Republicans

64

15

79

20

Independents

78

13

91

8

Democrats

86

7

93

7

         

Party Affiliation and Ideology

       

Conservative Republicans

60

16

76

22

Moderate/liberal Republicans

76

11

87

12

Pure independents

74

15

89

9

Conservative Democrats

78

12

90

9

Moderate Democrats

85

7

92

7

Liberal Democrats

90

8

98

2

         

Religious Preference

       

White Protestant/Other Christian

70

13

83

17

All Catholics

78

13

91

8

All other religions

84

13

97

3

All with no religion

87

10

97

3

         

Church Attendance

       

Weekly/Nearly weekly

70

13

83

16

Monthly

79

10

89

11

Seldom/Never

84

10

94

6

Key Points About Voting for a Female Presidential Candidate

There is no gender gap in these perceptions. Men and women are equally likely to say they would be willing to vote for a woman for president.

Senior citizens are less likely than those who are younger to support a female presidential candidate. Only 79% of adults aged 65 and older say they would vote for a woman for president, significantly below the sample average.

Republicans are less likely than are independents or Democrats to say they would vote for a woman. This partisan variation could reflect Republicans' specific thoughts about a Hillary Clinton candidacy, even though the question was only asked in a generic sense, mentioning no candidate names and specifying the candidate was of the person's own party.

Religious preference plays a role in views of supporting a woman for president, with white Protestants and other Christians less likely than those in other religions to support a woman for president. These groups are disproportionately likely to be Republicans.

 

Vote for Mormon Presidential Candidate?, Feb.-Mar. 2007

 

Completely comfortable voting for

Would vote for, with reservations

Total Would vote for

Would not vote for

 

%

%

%

%

Gender

       

Men

65

13

78

20

Women

55

16

71

23

         

Age

       

18-29

62

16

78

18

30-49

61

14

75

21

50-64

60

16

76

20

65 and older

54

14

68

27

         

Gender and Age

       

Men, aged 18-49

65

13

78

19

Men, aged 50 and older

64

13

77

21

Women, aged 18-49

58

16

74

22

Women, aged 50 and older

52

17

69

25

         

Party Affiliation

       

Republicans

59

12

71

25

Independents

64

14

78

20

Democrats

55

19

74

21

         

Party Affiliation and Ideology

       

Conservative Republicans

61

11

72

24

Moderate/liberal Republicans

63

12

75

23

Pure independents

64

12

76

21

Conservative Democrats

51

19

70

26

Moderate Democrats

60

18

78

17

Liberal Democrats

60

17

77

23

         

Religious Preference

       

White Protestant/Other Christian

57

14

71

26

All Catholics

66

14

80

15

All other religions

73

10

83

15

All with no religion

64

14

78

19

         

Church Attendance

       

Weekly/Nearly weekly

56

14

70

27

Monthly

62

12

74

22

Seldom/Never

64

15

79

16

Key Points About Voting for a Mormon Presidential Candidate

There are only slight variations in willingness to vote for a Mormon for president by partisanship, with 71% of Republicans, 78% of independents, and 74% of Democrats saying they would be completely comfortable voting for a Mormon.

White Protestants and other Christians are less likely than Catholics, those who prefer other religions, and those with no religious affiliation to vote for a Mormon for president, though a majority of all groups say they would vote for a Mormon. Also, Americans who attend religious services weekly or almost weekly are less likely than those who go to church less frequently to support a Mormon candidate.

 

Vote for 72-Year-Old Presidential Candidate?
Feb.-Mar. 2007

 

Completely comfortable voting for

Would vote for, with reservations

Total Would vote for

Would not vote for

 

%

%

%

%

Gender

       

Men

48

14

62

36

Women

36

16

52

46

         

Age

       

18-29

38

20

58

40

30-49

46

16

62

37

50-64

42

11

53

44

65 and older

38

12

50

46

         

Gender and Age

       

Men, aged 18-49

49

15

64

34

Men, aged 50 and older

48

12

60

38

Women, aged 18-49

39

20

59

41

Women, aged 50 and older

34

12

46

51

         

Party Affiliation

       

Republicans

47

15

62

37

Independents

43

15

58

40

Democrats

37

15

52

45

         

Party Affiliation and Ideology

       

Conservative Republicans

49

16

65

33

Moderate/liberal Republicans

45

16

61

38

Pure independents

49

10

59

36

Conservative Democrats

41

11

52

48

Moderate Democrats

33

14

47

50

Liberal Democrats

39

17

56

42

         

Religious Preference

       

White Protestant/Other Christian

43

14

57

41

All Catholics

38

17

55

42

All other religions

58

12

70

28

All with no religion

44

20

64

35

         

Church Attendance

       

Weekly/Nearly weekly

42

14

56

43

Monthly

39

14

53

46

Seldom/Never

43

16

59

38

Key Points About Voting for a 72-Year-Old Presidential Candidate

There are not, as might be expected, significant variations by age in these perceptions. Senior citizens are no more likely to say they would vote for a 72-year-old candidate than those who are younger. In fact, those 65 and older are slightly more likely to say that they would not vote for a 72-year-old candidate than is the case for those who are under 50.

Perhaps due to the fact that Republican candidate John McCain would be 72 years old at the time of the next election, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they would vote for a presidential candidate that is 72.

Just 44% of blacks say they would vote for a 72-year-old candidate, which is lower than the 59% among whites.

 

Vote for Presidential Candidate Who Has Been Married Three Times?
Feb.-Mar. 2007

 

Completely comfortable voting for

Would vote for, with reservations

Total Would vote for

Would not vote for

 

%

%

%

%

Gender

       

Men

62

11

73

25

Women

48

15

63

33

         

Age

       

18-29

58

13

71

28

30-49

58

15

73

25

50-64

54

13

67

29

65 and older

49

9

58

37

         

Gender and Age

       

Men, aged 18-49

63

11

74

24

Men, aged 50 and older

61

11

72

26

Women, aged 18-49

52

18

70

28

Women, aged 50 and older

44

12

56

38

         

Party Affiliation

       

Republicans

53

14

67

29

Independents

54

15

69

29

Democrats

58

10

68

29

         

Party Affiliation and Ideology

       

Conservative Republicans

45

17

62

34

Moderate/liberal Republicans

63

11

74

25

Pure independents

49

21

70

27

Conservative Democrats

55

8

63

32

Moderate Democrats

58

11

69

28

Liberal Democrats

61

11

72

27

         

Religious Preference

       

White Protestant/Other Christian

52

13

65

32

All Catholics

51

15

66

29

All other religions

56

16

72

26

All with no religion

70

15

85

14

         

Church Attendance

       

Weekly/Nearly weekly

47

12

59

37

Monthly

57

11

68

29

Seldom/Never

62

14

76

22

Key Points About Voting for a Thrice-Married Presidential Candidate

Conservatives of either party are slightly less likely to support a thrice-married candidate than moderate or liberal members of the same party. However, a majority of all political and ideological groups say they would vote for a thrice-married candidate.

There is a relationship between church-going frequency and willingness to support a candidate who has been married three times. The more frequently Americans report going to church, the less likely they say they are to vote for a candidate who has been married three times.

Men are more likely than women to support a thrice-married presidential candidate.

Americans 65 and older are less likely than those under 65 to say they would support a candidate for president who has been married three times.

 

Vote for Black Presidential Candidate?
Feb.-Mar. 2007

 

Completely comfortable voting for

Would vote for, with reservations

Total Would vote for

Would not vote for

 

%

%

%

%

Gender

       

Men

84

9

93

6

Women

85

10

95

5

         

Age

       

18-29

90

7

97

2

30-49

88

8

96

4

50-64

85

8

93

6

65 and older

72

17

89

10

         

Gender and Age

       

Men, aged 18-49

87

8

95

4

Men, aged 50 and older

80

10

90

9

Women, aged 18-49

90

8

98

2

Women, aged 50 and older

79

13

92

7

         

Party Affiliation

       

Republicans

83

10

93

6

Independents

84

10

94

5

Democrats

85

9

94

5

         

Party Affiliation and Ideology

       

Conservative Republicans

81

11

92

6

Moderate/liberal Republicans

86

9

95

4

Pure independents

78

11

89

9

Conservative Democrats

77

16

93

7

Moderate Democrats

85

9

94

5

Liberal Democrats

92

4

96

4

         

Religious Preference

       

White Protestant/Other Christian

83

9

92

7

All Catholics

83

11

94

4

All other religions

91

7

98

2

All with no religion

89

7

96

3

         

Church Attendance

       

Weekly/Nearly weekly

83

10

93

6

Monthly

82

10

92

8

Seldom/Never

86

9

95

4

         

Race

       

Whites

84

9

93

6

Blacks*

83

13

96

4

* = Low sample size

       

Key Points About Voting for a Black Presidential Candidate

Although the sample size of blacks in this aggregate sample is low (N=125), these data give no indication of a major difference between blacks and whites in their expressed willingness to vote for a black candidate.

More generally, there are few meaningful differences across any of the subgroups included in this analysis in expressed willingness to vote for a black candidate. The only exception is among Americans 65 and older, who are slightly less likely to indicate willingness to vote for a black candidate at all, and more likely to express reservations about voting for a black candidate.

Bottom Line

As has been widely discussed, these initial reactions to the characteristics of generic presidential candidates are not necessarily predictive of actual voting behavior. A voter may object in principle to voting for a Mormon, or a 72-year-old candidate, but the specific positives of an actual candidate who has these traits may override initial objections. However, what is interesting in the data reviewed here are the fascinating interrelationships between the characteristics of the voters and views on the impact of the characteristics of the candidates. One might expect that voters who share the characteristic under discussion would be more likely to vote for that type of candidate. But in several instances reviewed above, that's not the case. Blacks are no more likely than whites to say they would vote for a black candidate, women are no more likely than men to say they would vote for a female candidate, and older Americans are no more likely than those who are younger to say they would vote for a 72-year-old candidate.

There are also important political implications. Some observers have argued that a candidate like Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich -- each married three times -- would have difficulty gaining the vote of conservative Republicans. These data, however, indicate that a majority of all subgroups would be willing to vote for such a candidate.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 2,016 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 9-11, 2007 and March 2-4, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points. The maximum margin of sampling error for each individual subgroup presented in the tables above varies depending on the sample size involved, but is always higher than the sampling error for the total sample. 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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