It's hard to find a national politician who is popular enough to help a candidate win this fall.
President Obama has mostly shied from campaigning for Democrats this year, and a new poll shows why: A third of those surveyed say they are less likely to vote for candidates on whose behalf the president campaigns, and only a quarter said they were more likely to vote for a candidate Obama stumped for.
It wasn't just the president who had anchor-like numbers. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the party's 2008 vice-presidential nominee, could only motivate 15 percent of those surveyed to say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate she campaigned for, which she has been aggressively doing. Forty-two percent were less inclined to follow her lead, according to the latest Society for Human Resource Management/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted with the Pew Research Center.
Palin's largest liability came in her own demographic. Only 14 percent of female college graduates said they were more inclined to vote for her endorsed candidates, while 54 percent said Palin's backing would cost the candidate in their opinion. Her overall numbers are slightly more negative than those in a Pew survey released Aug. 1.
Looking deeper into the numbers, Obama's support would only encourage 2 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of independents, while 72 percent and 20 percent, respectively, would be discouraged from voting for an Obama-endorsed candidate.
Among Democrats, 49 percent said Obama's campaigning would be a plus, 10 percent a negative.
Whites were twice as likely to be against a candidate with Obama's blessing, while 58 percent of blacks considered the president's endorsement a positive factor for a candidate; just 5 percent of blacks saw it as a negative.
On the issues, candidates who backed this year's healthcare overhaul are just as likely to gain political support as lose it. Backers of the federal government's program to provide major loans to banks during the 2008 financial crisis faced harsher judgment.
The healthcare law, largely shunned as a campaign issue by Democrats this cycle, has been brandished by Republicans as an example of Democratic overreach. But as a determining factor among voters it appeared to be a wash; 36 percent said they are more likely to back a candidate who supported it, 35 percent less likely, and 40 percent call it a non-factor.
The Troubled Assets Relief Program, on the other hand, remains a political stinker despite recent reports that its cost to taxpayers would come in at $50 billion, far below initial estimates, and the relative stabilization of the financial system. Only 13 percent of respondents said that voting for TARP would help a candidate win their vote, while 46 percent said it would hurt that candidate. More than a third, 36 percent, said it made no difference. Those numbers are essentially unchanged since May.
For tea partiers, who have commanded so much attention this year, the landscape does not seem especially welcoming. Thirty-two percent of voters said affiliation with the tea party movement would sway them away from a candidate, 21 percent said that such an association would enhance a candidate's chances.
The poll results affirm a prominent story line of this year's election, which is that it does not help to be an incumbent. Only 12 percent of respondents said that current occupancy of an elected office was a plus in attracting their vote; 26 percent said it was negative.
But being a newcomer did not appear to be an especially helpful credential either, with 21 percent saying that incumbency made them more likely to vote someone, and 27 percent saying it made it less likely. The largest number, 47 percent, said it made no difference.
David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said that even in an anti-incumbent year like this one, the impression that so many political neophytes are able to fund their campaign with personal wealth often alienated many voters. As examples, Damore pointed to the struggling California campaigns of gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO, and Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Both are Republicans.
"The problem, I guess, is that some of those people are self-financed, and people get turned off by that," Damore said, adding with a laugh, "And people who are the actual new ones, they can't get any money."
The survey of 1,002 adults, conducted Thursday through Sunday, carries an error margin of 4 percent for the entire sample, with larger error margins for subgroups.