Rep. Paul D. Ryan arrives with his family for the Republican National Convention… (Kamil Krzaczynski / EPA )
TAMPA, Fla. -- Republican vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan is approaching the biggest moment of his career: his address to the Republican convention and a prime-time national television audience on Wednesday evening at 10 p.m. EDT. If early opinion soundings are correct, his presentation could help sharpen public impressions of the 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman.
When Americans are asked what single word best describes Ryan, the terms conservative, intelligent, good, unknown, and young get the most frequent responses.
That’s the latest finding from the non-partisan Pew Research Center, which conducts frequent independent opinion surveys. According to the national poll, the public is split, roughly evenly, on Ryan. More than a third of respondents volunteer positive descriptions (intelligent, good, energetic, honest and smart). Another third use negative terms (idiot, extreme, phony and scary). And the rest, just over one in four adults, offer more neutral words (conservative, unknown and young).
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A clear majority of Republicans — 69% — use positive descriptors, and independents are evenly split. Democrats, unsurprisingly, volunteer negative descriptions.
Overall, according to Pew, the outstanding themes, when Americans are asked to describe Ryan: his intelligence and conservative ideology.
For purposes of comparison, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin drew a different word association when she landed on the GOP ticket in 2008. Back then, inexperienced was the most frequent response. It was followed, however, by a string of more positive descriptors, including strong, refreshing, interesting, good and great.
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Also worth remembering: In the initial aftermath of her well-received national debut at the GOP convention, Palin was regarded as a clear asset to John McCain, who chose her for the ticket. A Pew poll, conducted about two weeks after the convention, found that Palin was seen favorably by 54% of voters.
In addition, she helped lift McCain’s support among conservative Republicans and white evangelical Protestant voters. Better than one in five McCain supporters at the time said they almost wished Palin had been the nominee, rather than McCain, according to the September 2008 poll.
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