Thursday, March 27, 2008

Surviving Wright: Obama Weathers Race and Religion Controversy

New polling data available from Pew Research suggest that Barack Obama's avoided short-term political damage from the Wright controversy of earlier this month:

The videos of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's controversial sermons and Barack Obama's subsequent speech on race and politics have attracted more public attention than any events thus far in the 2008 presidential campaign. A majority of the public (51%) said they heard "a lot" about the videos, and an even larger percentage (54%) said they heard a lot about Obama's speech, according to the weekly News Interest Index.

Most voters aware of the sermons say they were personally offended by Wright's comments, and a sizable minority (35%) says that their opinion of Obama has grown less favorable because of Wright's statements.

However, the Wright controversy does not appear to have undermined support for Obama's candidacy. The latest nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted March 19-22 among 1,503 adults, finds that Obama maintains a 49% to 39% advantage over Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, which is virtually unchanged from than the 49% to 40% lead he held among Democrats in late February. Obama and Clinton continue to enjoy slight advantages over John McCain in general election matchups among all registered voters.

The new polling suggests that the Wright affair has not hurt Obama's standing, in part because his response to the controversy has been viewed positively by voters who favor him over Clinton. Obama's handling of the Wright controversy also won a favorable response from a substantial proportion of Clinton supporters and even from a third of Republican voters.

More than eight-in-ten supporters of Obama (84%) who have heard about the controversy over Wright's sermons say he has done an excellent or good job of dealing with the situation. Reactions from Clinton supporters, and Republicans, are on balance negative; however, 43% of Clinton voters and a third of Republican voters who have heard about the affair express positive opinions about Obama's handling of the situation.

The survey finds that, in general, Obama has a highly favorable image among Democratic voters, including white Democrats. But while Obama's personal image is more favorable than Clinton's, certain social beliefs and attitudes among older, white, working-class Democratic voters are associated with his lower levels of support among this group.

In particular, white Democrats who hold unfavorable views of Obama are much more likely than those who have favorable opinions of him to say that equal rights for minorities have been pushed too far; they also are more likely to disapprove of interracial dating, and are more concerned about the threat that immigrants may pose to American values. In addition, nearly a quarter of white Democrats (23%) who hold a negative view of Obama believe he is a Muslim.

Less educated and older white Democrats, who have not backed Obama in most primary elections, hold these values more commonly than do other Democrats.

These patterns suggest the potential for future reverberations from the Wright controversy if Obama wins the Democratic nomination. More conservative beliefs about equal rights and race are not only related to negative opinions of Obama among Democrats, suggesting the potential for defections among Democratic voters, but also are associated with negative views of him in the electorate at large.

An analysis of the survey finds that holding conservative positions on political and social values is associated with a greater likelihood of supporting McCain over Obama among Republicans, Democrats and independents, and all demographic groups. In contrast, however, this pattern is much less apparent in the Clinton-McCain matchup, excepting views about women in leadership roles.

One of the few negative trends for Obama following the Wright affair is that a larger number of conservative Republicans hold a very unfavorable opinion of him in the new poll than did so in February. The survey also finds that Obama no longer enjoys the favorable image rating advantage over McCain among independents that was apparent in previous polls.
Thus, it's clear that there's considerable polarization surrounding Barack Obama and his relationship to Reverend Wright.

Note, too, that the decline in Obama's favorables mirrors
Michael Barone's analysis of Rasmussen's surveys following the Wright video revelations. Plus, Pew's findings on less-educated and older white Democrats indicate Obama's key vulnerability: He's got a values gap among traditional Americans, which could tilt a significant number of these folks over to the GOP in November.

Gallup reports today that the Democrats may see significant defections among their more conservative partisans:

Democrats are at most risk of losing the support of independents, conservative Democrats, and, among Hillary Clinton supporters, less well-educated Democrats if those voters' preferred candidate - Clinton or Barack Obama - does not win the party's nomination. Black Democrats appear loyal to the party regardless of who wins the nomination.
Thus, the overall impact of the Wright controversy will be to bolster GOP outreach efforts toward middle-of-the-road general election voters in the fall.

For some competing perspectives on such activities, see also, "
The Wright Path? Race, Patriotism, and GOP Election Strategy," and "GOP Will Appeal to Craven Prejudices, Essayist Alleges."


repsac3 said...

Link to the old HaloScan Comments for this post, seeing as how I had them laying around...