A year after leaving office, Palin’s future is still unclear

Holly Bailey
The Upshot

It’s a big anniversary for Sarah Palin today: One year ago, she left public office, resigning her post as Alaska governor with 18 months still left on her term.

In the year since, she’s become a best-selling author and a Fox News contributor, and she has signed up for her own reality TV show, "Sarah Palin’s Alaska," set to debut this fall. Politically, she’s a bigger force than she was a year ago. She’s raised more than $1 million for her political action committee, Sarah PAC, and endorsed nearly 60 GOP candidates around the country this primary season. Perhaps no other Republican gets more attention than she commands with a message on Facebook or Twitter.

That notoriety has invited scrutiny that Palin always doesn’t like. In an interview with an Alaska radio show last week, Palin said the one thing she misses is the ability to say things without her comments getting “misconstrued.”

But in spite of all the attention she gets, it’s still difficult to gauge Palin's larger role on the American political scene — and, by extension, how she's hoping to influence the presidential election in 2012.

Among Republican poll respondents, no political leader is more popular. According to Gallup, Palin’s approval rating among Republicans is at 76 percent — higher than any other potential GOP 2012 candidate. That’s a slight improvement over Palin’s standing when she left office a year ago. Back then, her approval rating among Republicans was at 72 percent. With numbers like these, it’s no wonder an endorsement from Palin can make or break a candidate struggling in a GOP primary.

Yet Palin’s standing with the broader public is not nearly as good. According to Gallup, 47 percent of Americans view Palin negatively. And people are increasingly settled in their opinion of Palin, polls show: They either like her or they don’t. Among 2012 hopefuls, Palin is the most polarizing candidate in the field, which is not great news for the former governor, since presidential elections are often decided by moderate swing voters.

The biggest test for Palin’s brand could be in the next 100 days, the final stretch before midterm Election Day. Palin has said she will start campaigning for her "mama grizzlies" and other endorsed candidates. That’s great news for many Democrats, who want nothing more than to make Palin an issue in the general election. And for that reason, it’s not clear whether these GOP candidates actually want to appear with Palin — especially if she runs the risk of alienating the moderates and independents who will probably decide many close 2010 contests.

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that Palin’s endorsement, while helpful in the primary, could be a kiss of death in the general election. A majority, 52 percent, said a Palin endorsement would either make them "very uncomfortable" with a candidate (37 percent) or cause them to have "some reservations" about the candidate (15 percent). Only 8 percent of likely voters said a Palin endorsement would make them more “enthusiastic” about a candidate.

To be fair, President Obama's dismal poll numbers have made him a persona non grata in certain races, too. Just as the White House is weighing very carefully where to deploy Obama, Palin and her advisers are considering the same thing — only her list is probably a little shorter.