Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, has become a powerful political voice by employing folksy charisma and social media to impact nominations, elections, and policy. During the midterm elections, Palin successfully endorsed numerous winning candidates in Republican primaries, including long shot Governor Nikki Haley (R – SC). Her efforts fueled campaigns and lifted her party to reclaim the House of Representatives in historic fashion. Regardless of how one views her personally, it is foolish to deny her influence on U.S. politics.
Palin possesses several strengths as a potential candidate. She has demonstrated her ability to pack fundraisers, draw enormous crowds to campaign rallies, and relate to voters on a personal level. For example, she drew an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 individuals to a rally in The Villages, Florida and her PAC raised over 3 million dollars in 2010, mostly from individual contributions. Her populist style of politics has turned her into a celebrity of sorts. She has authored two books and starred in a documentary series about her adventures in the Alaskan outdoors.
Unlike Mitt Romeny, Palin has a strong following among social conservatives and members of the Tea Party. Another major advantage for Palin is her use of social media. Her ability to use “free” media allows her to spend less on paid advertising.
An organized campaign structure and electability concerns are perhaps Palin’s biggest disadvantages. In head to head matchups with the president, Palin currently lags. Republicans, even those who support her, are concerned with her ability to win a general election. However, breaking down the numbers could help ease those concerns.
Analysis of polling data provides a candidate’s “floor," or the minimum percentage of the vote they can expect to receive against any opponent. According to an analysis of polling, Obama’s “floor” is 43% and Palin’s is 39% (Obama +4). A “floor” determines a candidate’s solid support and eliminates volatile support that can be changed by acquiring information. Likely, things could not get worse for Palin; she has arguably received more negative media coverage than any other political figure. Voters will have the opportunity to acquire information if Palin is given the opportunity to speak during debates, through advertising and speeches.
Perhaps her greatest challenge will be overcoming the perception that she lacks substance on policy issues. She has begun taking recent steps to increase her policy credentials including a recent trip to India and Israel.
Similar to the early political career of President Ronald Reagan, Palin has been portrayed as lacking the knowledge and credentials to be president of the United States. Her challenge will be to prove them wrong. Is she up to the challenge? Time will tell, but the self-described “hockey mom” continues to surprise. I am still not convinced she will run, but do not count her out for 2012. She thrives on being the underdog. I do know she will be a powerful influence moving forward.
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