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The Sarah Palin puzzle: A plurality disapproves yet a growing majority now identifies with her views

September 21, 2010 |  3:28 am

Republican Sarah Palin stresses a point during Ronald Reagan dinner in Iowa 9-17-10

For someone who's so widely deemed unqualified to be president and disapproved by a plurality of Americans, Sarah Palin the politician sure has convinced an awful lot of people that she thinks like they do. And vice versa.

In a modern media age of images and sound bites, especially with so many feeling disappointed by another prominent pol, that's a powerful position to hold, even if she doesn't seek another political office.

Such an identification with voters, especially Republicans, independents and women, may help explain Palin's success endorsing primary candidates this year; about three out of four of her picks have won their race, including most recently Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Joe Miller of Alaska. Very few of President Obama's high-profile endorsements have won, although voters in one poll claimed his endorsement outweighs Palin's.

A new Rasmussen Poll 23 months before the Republican nominating convention for 2012 finds....

...that a majority of Americans (52%) now say their own personal views are closer to the former governor who didn't finish her first term than they are to the former senator who didn't finish his first term. You know, her down-to-earth talk about commonsense conservatism and reining in Washington's runaway spending and arrogance.Republican Sarah Palin in Iowa 9-17-10

Only 40% say their views are closer to Barack Obama's and 48% now see his political views as extreme.

All part of the puzzling and polarizing political package that is Palin. Even her ardent detractors can't silently dismiss her as a nobody might merit. They must vociferously denounce her, which in politics is actually a sign of respect, the louder the better.

As we wrote here in June:

"So, how to account for Palin's successes this year, especially since her methods, like her style, are so doggone unconventional -- shunning grandstand news conferences and the media to issue endorsements and statements on her Facebook page, for instance, the way millions of Americans communicate with each other?

"Who does stuff like that and how can it possibly work?

"Whether that ever gets her elected to anything again, that's part of Palin's non-traditional brand, which in an era of profound distaste for establishment pols and many incumbents certainly helps set her apart from the pre-programmed, partisan suits Americans see maneuvering and mucking around to no particular end in Washington each day."

The new survey of likely voters found that 84% of Republicans and 59% of independents say Palin's views are more like theirs; 76% of Republican voters and 52% of independents now hold a favorable opinion of Palin, an improvement over a year ago.

However, only 16% of all voters and 34% of GOP voters say a Palin endorsement would sway them to vote as she recommends. Then again among tea party supporters, this year's most potent political posse, Palin's nod clearly carries more weight, making her a force to be reckoned with as the GOP field begins to line up for 2012.

And the fact is, for better or worse, Palin is far better known at this point in the 2012 cycle than a certain ex-state senator from Illinois was 26 months out from the 2008 vote.

Most of them will make a Go-No Go decision around the year-end holidays or shortly after, once they see the new congressional makeup and how weakened Obama appears. If many Palin picks end up winning six weeks from today, that gives her fresh party allies for the upcoming potential nomination struggle for the hearts of Republicans, where she's always run strong. And it enhances her clout, a Chicago kind of word but no longer confined to Obama's windy political hometown.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Steve Pope / EPA (Palin in Iowa 9-17-10).

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