Will The GOP's Negativity Produce A Backlash?

After a long week in Denver and another
week in Minneapolis, I'm traveling home today and thus won't have much
time to post, but I wanted to follow up on the discussion that ensued
yesterday in response to my post
arguing that, particularly in light of the brutal personal attacks on
Obama at the Convention, Democrats ought to be far more aggressively
critical of McCain and the GOP generally. Many people in comments and
by e-mail argued that Americans dislike negativity and that Sarah
Palin's speech, in particular, would backfire on the Republicans.

The first polling data is now available on this question and it's rather conclusive. First, from SurveyUSA, yesterday:

What grade do you give [Palin] on the speech? An A, B, C, D, or an F?

A - 60

B - 11

C - 11

D - 9

F - 8

On the whole, is Sarah Palin an asset to John McCain? A liability to McCain? Or, do you not know enough to say?

Asset - 55

Liability - 24

Don't know enough - 19

Does McCain's selection of Sarah
Palin as a running mate reflect well on McCain? Reflect poorly on
McCain? Or do you not know enough to say?

Reflects well on McCain - 55

Reflects poorly - 30

Don't know enough - 14

If you were placing a bet today,
would you bet that Barack Obama will be elected president? Or, John
McCain will be elected president?

Obama - 45

McCain - 48

Don't know - 7

Then there is this Rasmussen Reports poll from today, taken after Palin's speech:

week ago, most Americans had never heard of Alaska Governor Sarah
Palin. Now, following a Vice Presidential acceptance speech viewed live
by more than 40 million people, Palin is viewed favorably by 58% of
American voters. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey
finds that 37% hold an unfavorable view of the self-described hockey

The figures include 40% with a Very Favorable opinion of Palin and
18% with a Very Unfavorable view (full demographic crosstabs are
available for Premium Members). Before her acceptance speech, Palin was
viewed favorably by 52%. A week ago, 67% had never heard of her. . . .

Perhaps most stunning is the fact that Palin's favorable ratings are
now a point higher than either man at the top of the Presidential
tickets this year. As of Friday morning, Obama and McCain are each
viewed favorably by 57% of voters. Biden is viewed favorably by 48%.

A CBS poll taken during the GOP Convention shows Obama and McCain tied (after showing Obama with a 6-point lead last week), while the Gallup daily tracking poll continues to show Obama with a 7-point lead.

None of this is to say that Palin can't be turned into a liability for
the Republicans. She can be. And although I can only guess like
everyone else, I've thought all year that Democrats would likely win
the election and still think that.

But the idea that Americans instinctively recoil from negativity or
that there will be some sort of backlash against Republicans generally
and Palin specifically because of how "negative" their convention
speeches were is pure fantasy. Cultural tribalism and personality
attacks of those sort work, especially when they're not aggressively

Every four years, the GOP unleashes unrestrained personality attacks on
Democrats and exploits cultural resentments. Every four years,
Democrats tell themselves that such attacks don't work and are
counter-productive. And every four years, that belief is disproven.
These "character" issues end up mattering largely because Democrats, in
election after election, allow wars over "character" to be waged in a
largely one-sided fashion.

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