ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The controversy over statements made by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright does not appear to have undermined support for Senator Barack Obama, even though many voters were personally offended by Wright's comments. That is according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center. The poll also gauged public opinion about the economy — no big surprise, it's increasingly negative — and it had some good news for John McCain.
Andy Kohut is the director of the Pew Research Center.
Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (Director, The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press): Happy to be here, Robert.
SIEGEL: (Unintelligible) for Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama's speech about race, one thing you found was the public was paying attention.
Mr. KOHUT: Eighty percent have heard about Wright's sermons or a comparable number about Obama's speech, and this is the number one-ranked story that we've tracked of 17 campaign events over the past few months. It's the big news for voters so far. But it didn't have much of an impact on how people feel about Obama.
SIEGEL: He emerges with the same numbers that he had going into that.
Mr. KOHUT: He has a 49-to-39 lead over Hillary Clinton; about what he had a month ago. He has a small lead 49-to-43 over McCain, which is about what she gets too. But those numbers aren't materially different. What we do see is a very positive response about the way he handled it.
SIEGEL: His speech on race.
Mr. KOHUT: His speech and his general dealing with the issue.
SIEGEL: As the Democratic nomination is still contested and probably will be for another couple of months at least, what do you find about supporters of Clinton? What they make of Obama or supporters of Obama? What they make of Clinton?
Mr. KOHUT: Well, we did an in-depth analysis of the way white Democrats feel about these two candidates, and we found that Obama has a glowing image. He has a better image on almost all personal dimensions, say, patriotism than Hillary Clinton. And the thing that really makes it for many people who like Obama is that he engenders a positive emotional response. He makes them feel hopeful and proud; feelings really drive opinions about Obama. The downside and what we identify in the survey, a significant percentage of white Democrats, their social beliefs and attitudes, drive them away from Obama.
The critics of Obama among Democrats more often say that equal rights have been pushed too far, more often, say, disapprove, I mean, to racial dating. They think we should fight for our country right or wrong, and that immigrants represent a threat to the nation. Their social conservatism of these voters is the issue for Obama, and not so much what he says or what he does but what he represents to them.
SIEGEL: The economy. Do you find people are not so optimistic obviously?
Mr. KOHUT: Each month, we've had a lower percentage of people saying the economy is in excellent or good shape. It fell to 11 percent in the current survey. We have to go back to the spring of 1993 to match that number. The good news is that when we ask people about their own finances, they're still relatively positive. We get about 45 percent or so saying my finances are pretty good and that hasn't changed, and it's much better than what we got in the mid-90s recession.
So, it really hasn't come home to people. But they see the economy getting worst and worst, and a majority say recession.
SIEGEL: And the good news in this survey for Senator John McCain?
Mr. KOHUT: Oh, the good news is that more members of his party think the GOP will get behind him, and an increasing percentage of independents say that he will govern the country differently the way President Bush does. And that's good news because President Bush's approval ratings are down to 28 percent. That is the lowest we've recorded for him, and it's very low for most American presidents.
SIEGEL: Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, thanks a lot for talking with us.
Mr. KOHUT: You're welcome.
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