Now, two weeks after the Republican convention, there seems little question that Mrs. Palin is making a difference.
Gallup Poll Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport told The Times that his polling shows that “10 percent of McCain voters volunteer that they are voting for him because of Sarah Palin. Only 1 percent of Obama supporters volunteer that they are voting for Obama because of Joe Biden.”
What’s most surprising is that Mrs. Palin, of all people, may have brought Mr. McCain the gift of a lifetime at exactly the right time - a surge in affection for him from independent voters, who hold the balance of power in almost every election.
“The six-point bounce in voter support [for Mr. McCain] spanning the Republican National Convention is largely explained by political independents shifting to him in fairly big numbers, from 40 percent pre-convention to 52 percent post-convention,” Ms. Saad said in reporting her firm’s daily tracking. “By contrast, Democrats’ support for McCain rose five percentage points over the GOP convention period, from 9 percent to 14 percent, while Republicans’ already-high support stayed about the same.”
What brings ear-to-ear smiles to Team McCain is that the surge of independents who now like the Arizona senator for president marks the first time since Gallup began tracking voters’ general-election preferences in March that the majority of independents have sided with Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama. Before that, Mr. McCain got no more than 48 percent of independents and Mr. Obama no more than 46 percent.
But nonpartisan analysts are cautious about the extent and durability of the “Palin effect.”
“We see no evidence that Palin is a draw, per se, among Republicans,” said Ms. Saad. “Republican identifiers were already supporting McCain to the tune of 90 percent prior to selecting Palin, and that figure has not changed.”
What has changed is the intensity of that support - more Republicans say they intend to talk up the ticket and drag friends and neighbors to the polls on Nov. 4 than was the case when the prospect was Mr. McCain and an unnamed running mate. And none of those named on the so-called shortlist elicited such widespread enthusiasm as Mrs. Palin has among men and women, religious and not-so-religious, in the Republican ranks.
“McCain has picked up some support from independents and conservative Democrats in the past week or so - disproportionately men,” Ms. Saad said. “That bump occurred toward the tail end of the GOP convention, so it wasn’t an immediate result of Palin being selected.”
Ms. Saad thinks the bump could have been a reaction to the Palin speech or to Mr. McCain’s speech. “We just don’t know, but I think it’s at least possible that the retelling of his POW story may have been the draw for the above-stated demographics,” she said.
For now, one thing is true beyond speculation: The Palin effect has turned around the cartoons, if not the tables.
“A Jeff McNelly cartoon from back in 1988 had an elephant holding a sign that had George H.W. Bush in big letters and Dan Quayle in little letters,” recalls political analyst Merrill Matthews. “A donkey was holding a sign with Michael Dukakis in little letters and Lloyd Bentsen in big letters. That’s kind of where we are right now, only with the parties reversed.”