By THOMAS HARGROVE and GUIDO H. STEMPEL III
Scripps Howard News Service
May 31, 2007
A survey of 1,010 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University finds many Americans voice concerns about candidates who've used cocaine, been married three times, have uncommon religious beliefs, have little government experience or are just plain too old.
The survey finds almost every major candidate has a significant fault or political deficit they must overcome.
"This is a very different field of candidates, a more wounded field than usual. That's going to make for a very interesting race," concluded Morgan Felchner, editor of Campaigns and Elections magazine.
One of the biggest obstacles facing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is his age. He would be 72 when taking office, older than Ronald Reagan who was 69 the first time he took the oath. The survey found that 56 percent believe most Americans will not accept such an elderly chief executive.
"That's kind of surprising," said historian Paul Boller Jr. who, at 90, has just published his latest history of the denizens of the White House titled "Presidential Diversions: Presidents at Play from George Washington to George W. Bush." "After all, people are living much longer these days. The public has got to get adjusted to this."
Adults in the survey were equally troubled over prospects of a president who tried cocaine in his youth, something Sen. Barack Obama has admitted. Only 34 percent said they think most Americans would accept this while 58 percent said it would not be acceptable.
"Obama was very smart to admit this up front. That way, it won't become a 'gotcha' at the end of the campaign," said Felchner.
The highest negative trait of all goes to candidates who have little government experience, a charge frequently leveled against Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. Fifty-nine percent said they believe most people would find lack of experience to be unacceptable.
Some candidates suffer from multiple challenges. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who is the Republican front-runner in all national polls, has been married three times and would not abolish abortion rights, both unusual for a candidate seeking conservative voters. Less than half the adults in the survey thought either would be acceptable to most people.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, the junior senator from New York, must overcome the political consequences of being the first competitive female presidential candidate in history and one who voted to authorize military actions in Iraq. Just slightly more than half thought either being a women or a former supporter of the war would be acceptable to most Americans.
"I honestly doubt that Americans are ready for a black president or a woman. It's all very complicated for the Democrats right now. I'd hate to have to make a prediction," said Boller.
The survey found that only 55 percent thought a black president would be acceptable to most Americans.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney must persuade the Republican electorate, including many of the estimated 100 million evangelical Protestants, not to take offense at his Mormon faith. The poll found that 45 percent believe a Mormon president would be unacceptable to most people.
The survey found that some personal traits do not seem to matter much. Most people believe it's acceptable for a white presidential candidate to have adopted a black child (good news for McCain who in 1991 adopted a very dark-skinned 10-week-old orphan from Bangladesh) or to currently smoke tobacco (good news for Obama, though he's trying to quit.) Although past cocaine use draws little acceptance, the poll found people are more accepting of candidates who tried marijuana when very young (also good news for Obama and, perhaps, for other candidates.)
Few voice concern over a candidate who is very wealthy, which is good news for at least eight candidates who are millionaires, or who have lived the last 20 years in Washington, D.C.
The survey was conducted by telephone from May 6-27 at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. The poll was sponsored through a grant by the Scripps Howard Foundation.
The survey has a margin of error of slightly more than 3 percent.
E-mail Thomas Hargrove at hargrovet(at)shns.com
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