Poll: 2004 Democratic Contenders — John Who?

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Among the current list of Democrats competing for a chance to challenge George W. Bush in the next presidential election, most have a long way to go to become household names.

The candidate with the most work to do on the name recognition front is arguably Vermont Governor Howard Dean.  The latest FOX News poll, conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corp., asked registered voters nationwide if their opinion of Mr. Dean was favorable or unfavorable.  Only 15 percent of Americans could muster an opinion of the governor and, of those, it was fairly evenly split between positive (seven percent) and negative (eight percent).

North Carolina Senator John Edwards is in somewhat the same boat.  Almost three-quarters of registered voters nationally have no opinion of the Southerner (23 percent "can't say" and 50 "never heard of").  The numbers are similar when looking at the results only among self-defined Democrats.  Nationally, 17 percent rate Edwards favorably and 10 percent unfavorably.

Even for Missouri Representative Dick Gephardt, who ran for president once before in 1988 and has served in Congress for almost 30 years, there is a sizeable chunk of the electorate (40 percent) that either has no opinion or has never heard of him.  About one-third (32 percent) have a favorable opinion of the former House Majority Leader, and 28 percent have an unfavorable view.  Among Democrats, Gephardt's favorable rating improves to 41 percent (16 percent unfavorable).

One of the most recent entrants, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, is the best known of the current contenders.  Lieberman's name recognition was undoubtedly helped by his campaign as Al Gore's running mate in the 2000 election, and he has highest favorable rating of the Democrats tested in the FOX News survey.  Forty-two percent of Americans and 56 percent of Democrats have a positive opinion of Lieberman, 30 percent unfavorable (15 percent of Dems), and 28 percent having no opinion.

The Reverend Al Sharpton has better name recognition than several of his competitors, but he also has the highest unfavorable rating.  Ten percent of American's have a favorable opinion of Sharpton, 46 percent unfavorable with the remaining 44 percent either unable to say or having never heard of the New York minister.

Finally, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has a 25 percent favorable rating and 16 percent unfavorable, with 20 percent who "can't say" and 39 percent "never heard of" the senator.  Among Democrats, Kerry's favorable rating rises to 34 percent and only 8 percent have an unfavorable view of him, but the number without an opinion stays at 59 percent.

"Of course, if you look at polls from 1975 virtually no one had heard of Jimmy Carter," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman.  "In 1991, Bill Clinton was a tiny blip on the radar screen.  Both of them ran successful primary campaigns and went on to beat incumbent Republican presidents.  That doesn't mean that any of these guys can do the same thing, but it does mean you have to be really cautious about drawing conclusions from polls so far out from the election."

Democratic Primary

Looking at only the Democratic respondents on the vote question, Lieberman comes out on top with 29 percent.  Gephardt gets about half that at 15 percent, followed by Kerry at 13, Edwards at 8, Sharpton at 5 and Dean at 2 percent.  Over one-quarter of Democrats (28 percent) say that if their party's 2004 presidential primary were held today, they would vote for someone else or are unsure.

Religion of Presidential Candidates

The FOX News survey asked voters whether a presidential candidate's religion is a factor -- positive or negative -- in their vote.  Majorities say if a candidate were Jewish, Roman Catholic or Protestant, it would not be a consideration.  If the candidate were a member of the Christian Coalition or a Muslim, just under half say religion would not be a factor.

Almost equal numbers say a candidate being Jewish is a positive (14 percent) as say a negative (12 percent).  Being Protestant received the highest positive response at 25 percent, with only five percent saying it would be a negative.  An almost equal number think being a member of the Christian Coalition is a positive (21 percent) as is being Catholic (19 percent), but 24 percent see the Christian Coalition as a negative compared to only 11 percent thinking Catholicism might make a vote for that candidate less likely.

Fully 49 percent say being Muslim would be a negative factor that might make them less likely to vote for that candidate (three percent say it would be a positive).

Polling was conducted by telephone January 14-15, 2003 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ± 3 percentage points. Results are of registered voters, unless otherwise noted. LV = likely voters

I'm going to read the names of some people. Please tell me whether you have a generally favorable or unfavorable opinion of each. If you've never heard of one, please just say so. (RANDOMIZE)
SCALE: 1. Favorable 2. Unfavorable 3. (Not sure) 4. Never heard of

1. George W. Bush

2. John Edwards

3. Joe Lieberman

4. John Kerry

5. Howard Dean

6. Al Sharpton

7. Dick Gephardt

8. I'm going to read you a list of names of some possible candidates for the Democratic nomination for president in the next election. If a 2004 Democratic primary for president were held today, which of the following candidates would you most likely vote for? (Well, to whom do you lean?) (RANDOMIZE)

9. - 13. Over the years there has been debate over whether a presidential candidate's religion is an obstacle or an advantage to getting elected. I'm going to read you some religious affiliations and I'd like you to tell me whether you think that affiliation is a positive thing that might make you more likely to vote for the candidate or a negative thing that might make you less likely to vote for the candidate. (RANDOMIZE)
SCALE: 1. A positive, 2. A negative, 3. (Doesn't matter), 4. (Not sure)