PRINCETON, NJ -- Four in 10 Americans rate Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate as either "excellent" or "pretty good," while 42% call the choice "only fair" or "poor." This even division is among the least positive reactions to a vice presidential choice Gallup has recorded in recent elections. Only George H.W. Bush's selection of Dan Quayle in 1988 generated a higher negative response, although it also generated higher positives.
The results are based on a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Aug. 12 with 1,006 national adults.
Despite Americans' muted reaction to Ryan in general, the Wisconsin representative and Republican House Budget Committee chairman may be relatively effective at firing up the GOP base this fall, as 39% of Republicans at this point consider him an "excellent" choice. That compares with 34% of Republicans calling Sarah Palin an excellent choice in August 2008 and 18% rating Dick Cheney excellent in July 2000.
On the Democratic side, fewer than 30% of Democrats rated Joe Biden this well in August 2008 (28%) or Joe Lieberman in August 2000 (23%). Only John Edwards in July 2004 elicited more excitement from members of his own party, with 45% calling him an excellent choice.
Ryan Has Weakest Favorables, Not Widely Known
By 25% to 17%, more Americans have a favorable than unfavorable opinion of Ryan. However, nearly six in 10 are not familiar enough with Ryan to offer an opinion of him.
Nearly half of Republicans can't rate Ryan; however, those who can are mostly positive, with 50% viewing him favorably and 3% unfavorably. Democrats view Ryan more negatively, although barely a third have an unfavorable view of him (34%), while 6% have a favorable view. Independents' views are closely split, similar to the national average.
Although Ryan is not widely known, his favorable-to-unfavorable ratio is on the low side for recent vice presidential picks. For example, Palin's favorable rating among registered voters was three times greater than her unfavorable rating at the time she made her debut as John McCain's running mate at the 2008 Republican National Convention, 22% vs. 7%.
A similar contrast is seen between Ryan's current ratings and those of Edwards in 2004, as well as Lieberman and Cheney in 2000, Jack Kemp in 1996, and Al Gore in 1992. All of these candidates were viewed much more favorably than favorably -- by a 3-to-1 margin or better -- at the time they were tapped to be their party's vice presidential nominee. Reaction to Biden in 2008 was about 2-to-1 positive.
Most Voters Say Ryan Won't Affect Their Vote in November
Ryan's direct impact on the ticket is only slightly positive, with 17% of Americans saying his selection makes them more likely to support Romney and 12% less likely to support him, while 66% say it will not affect their vote.
Americans' statement that the vice presidential pick won't affect them is not unusual. In every election from 1988 through 2008, the majority of voters said each new vice-presidential nominee would not have much effect on their vote, including sizable majorities of voters in several of these.
Nearly Half Consider Ryan Qualified
Nearly half of Americans, 48%, consider Ryan qualified for the job of president, while 29% disagree and 23% are unsure. This positions Ryan ahead of both Palin and Quayle in the "qualified" rankings of past vice presidential nominees; however, he still trails all other recent candidates on this score.
Vice presidential picks typically enjoy a lopsidedly positive reaction from Americans when they are first tapped to be on a presidential ticket. However, that doesn't apply to Ryan, likely owing to his leading role in authoring major conservative alternatives to President Obama's policies on healthcare and the federal budget -- plans that elicited significant Democratic criticism and pushback.
Still, Ryan appears to have two important things working in his favor at this point: 1) relatively strong support from Republicans, with about four in 10 evidently excited about him as an "excellent" choice for vice president; and 2) relatively low name ID nationally. This gives the Romney campaign a valuable opportunity to introduce Ryan to voters as his visibility skyrockets. Of course, this advantage could also become a disadvantage if the Obama campaign is able to define Ryan first in less flattering terms.
It is often noted that Americans vote for president, not vice president, so it is unclear how much views of Ryan will matter come Nov. 6. George H.W. Bush won handily in 1988 despite voters' significant doubts about Quayle; and John Kerry and Bob Dole both lost despite the initially warm public reactions to their respective running mates, Edwards and Kemp.
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Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 12, 2012, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,006 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Gallup trends for these questions from past elections are based on registered voters.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
The questions reported here were asked of a random half-sample of respondents each night on the Gallup Daily tracking survey.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.