For the most part, the Democratic electorate is politically and socially liberal, but there are divisions within the party, especially along racial, class, and generational lines. Looking at divisions just among white Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, the older and less educated are significantly more conservative on key political values.
A quarter of white Democrats believe that the country has gone too far in pushing equal rights. A much larger proportion of white Democrats who have not attended college believe this than those with at least some college experience (37% vs. 16%).
Overall, 61% of white Democratic voters completely agree that it’s “all right for whites and blacks to date each other.” But fewer than half of non-college and older white Democrats completely agree (44% for each group). Notably, about one-in-five in each of these groups disagrees with the idea that interracial dating is acceptable. By contrast, just 6% of college-educated Democratic voters, and just 3% of younger white Democrats (ages 18 to 44), find interracial dating unacceptable.
Few Democrats believe that women should return to their traditional roles, or that men make better leaders than women. However, younger and better educated white Democrats are even more likely than others to disagree with these notions. About three-quarters of college educated (76%) and younger Democrats (73%) completely disagree that women should return to traditional roles, compared with 48% of those who have not attended college, and 56% of Democrats ages 45 and older. Similarly, 57% of Democrats with college experience completely disagree that men are better leaders, compared with 40% of Democrats who have not attended college.
Democrats are nearly equally divided over the statement that “we should be willing to fight for our country whether it is right or wrong” (50% agree and 46% disagree). However, 52% of Democrats who have attended college disagree with this view, compared with 37% of non-college Democrats. There are no significant age differences on this question.
Older Democrats and the less educated also have more conservative views when it comes to immigration. About six-in-ten white Democrats overall (61%) disagree that the growing number of newcomers threatens traditional American customs and values. Democrats who have not attended college are divided on this question (45% agree and 51% disagree). In contrast, 69% of those with college experience disagree with the idea that newcomers to the United States threaten traditional values.
Democratic Values and Candidate Favorability
Differences on these social and political attitudes are correlated with opinions about Obama among white Democratic voters, but they are not significantly associated with opinions about Clinton. Democrats with more liberal views on interracial dating, the country’s pursuit of equal rights, and even the question of whether men make better leaders, hold a more favorable opinion of Obama than do Democrats with conservative views on these questions.
By contrast, most of these values are only weakly related to favorability ratings of Clinton. Taken together, they give little indication of a Democratic voter’s impression of Clinton.
Values and the General Election Vote
There is much more variation on these values in the general electorate than there is among Democrats, and consequently their impact on the vote in November may be substantial. A multiple regression analysis that takes into account demographics and partisanship finds that voters with conservative racial attitudes are much less likely to vote for Obama against McCain than are those with liberal attitudes.
For example, a voter who disapproves of interracial dating (15% of all voters) is 24 percentage points less likely to vote for Obama than one who approves of interracial dating, controlling for demographics and party affiliation. Similarly, a voter who believes that “we have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country” (31% of all voters) is 20 percentage points less likely to vote for Obama. Other social values have a much weaker association with the likelihood of voting for Obama.
The social value most highly associated with the likelihood of voting for Clinton is the belief that men are better leaders than women. In the multiple regression analysis, voters who hold this view (26% of all voters) are 26 percentage points less likely to vote for Clinton over McCain.
Candidate Traits and the Democratic Electorate
Solid majorities of all Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters describe Clinton and Obama as inspiring, honest, down-to-earth, and patriotic. In addition, most say both candidates have made them feel hopeful and proud. But Democratic voters are considerably more likely to attribute positive traits to Obama than to Clinton, while negative traits are more often associated with Clinton.
About eight-in-ten Democratic voters say Barack Obama is down-to-earth (82%), inspiring (82%), and honest (80%). By comparison, about two-thirds see Hillary Clinton as inspiring (66%) and honest (65%) and slightly fewer say she is down-to-earth (62%). When it comes to being seen as patriotic, however, Clinton has a slight edge over her opponent; 86% say she is patriotic, while 78% say that about Obama.
In general, opinions of Clinton vary considerably by gender. About two-thirds of Democratic and Democratic-leaning women (68%) say Clinton has made them feel proud. By contrast, just 42% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning men say the same. Women are also much more likely than men to say Clinton is inspiring (72% vs. 57%), honest (69% vs. 59%), and down-to-earth (69% vs. 51%), and to say that Clinton has made them feel hopeful (70% vs. 52%).
Similarly, African Americans and whites express significantly different opinions about Barack Obama. Fully 82% of black Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters say Obama has made them feel proud, but just over half of white Democrats (53%) express this view. And while overwhelming majorities of white Democratic voters say Obama is inspiring (80%) and down-to-earth (78%), and that he makes them feel hopeful (68%), even greater shares of blacks attribute these characteristics to Obama (92% inspiring, 92% down-to-earth, and 87% hopeful).
Most Democratic voters do not associate negative traits and emotions with either of their party’s candidates, but about three-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (29%) say the word phony describes Clinton, and about as many say she has made them feel uneasy (30%) and angry (32%). Moreover, fully 39% of democratic voters describe Clinton as hard to like. Fewer Democratic voters describe Barack Obama as phony (14%) or hard to like (13%), but larger minorities say he has made them feel angry (19%) and uneasy (25%). White Democratic voters are much more likely than blacks to say Obama has made them feel uneasy (29% vs. 7%).
What Makes Democrats Uneasy about Obama?
Democratic voters who said that Obama makes them uneasy (25% of all Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters) were asked to explain what it is about him that makes them feel this way. The most common response pertained to his relative lack of experience: a quarter those who say Obama has made them feel uneasy point to his inexperience, either in general or in a particular policy arena, or to what some perceive as his naivety about the political process. Closely following mentions of his inexperience are concerns about Obama’s affiliation with Rev. Wright and other associates, mentioned by 21%; 16% refer specifically to Wright.
A smaller group (13%) voices concern that Obama is not substantive or specific enough. These concerns are more common among college graduates than among those who have not graduated from college.
While less common, references to Obama’s race were mentioned by 7% of Democratic voters, a view expressed only by those who have not attended college. His religious beliefs, which include both general comments and specific references to beliefs that he is Muslim, were noted by 6%, and concerns about Obama’s patriotism (4%) were also mentioned.
What Makes Clinton Hard to Like?
Democratic voters who say that Hillary Clinton is hard to like – 39% of the total – were asked to describe what it is about her that makes her hard to like. About one-in-five (21%) mention aspects of Clinton’s personality, including coldness, pushiness, and arrogance. About one-in-ten (11%) say she has “too much baggage” from the Clinton administration. About the same number (10%) says she is too ambitious and will say or do anything to get elected. Fewer Democrats mention dishonesty or say she is phony (6% each) in response to why Clinton is hard to like. A small number mention questionable campaign tactics (5%) or simply the fact that she is a woman (5%).
Democratic and Democratic-leaning men and women do not offer significantly different explanations for thinking Clinton is hard to like, but men are twice as likely as women to say the New York senator is too ambitious (14% vs. 7%). Women are somewhat more likely than men to say they dislike Clinton’s positions on issues (7% vs. 1%).
Obama’s Broad Appeal
Obama’s personal appeal extends to many voters beyond the Democratic electorate. Among voters overall, seven-in-ten view Obama as inspiring and two-thirds (67%) say he is down-to-earth. Considerably fewer see him as phony (27%) or hard to like (17%). By contrast, fewer than half of registered voters see Clinton as inspiring (49%) or down-to-earth (45%). Regardless of party, voters assess Obama more favorably across a series of traits.
Not surprisingly, the personal images of both Obama and Clinton are more positive among Democratic voters than among independents or Republicans. However, Republicans express much more critical views of Clinton than Obama on nearly every trait tested.
Only 25% of Republicans say Clinton is inspiring, compared to 58% who say the same of Obama; this 33-point gap is more than double the gap among Democrats. This contrast in partisan intensity is starkest when asked if the candidates are “hard-to-like;” three-quarters of Republicans (75%) say this describes Clinton, while fewer than a quarter (22%) says the same of Obama.
Patriotism is an exception to the pattern seen with the other traits: Independent of partisan affiliation, Clinton is seen as patriotic by more voters than Obama (76% to 64%). A solid majority of Republican voters (62%) says that the word patriotic describes Clinton, but fewer than half (46%) say it describes Obama.
As with Democratic women, independent women are significantly more likely than their male counterparts to attribute positive qualities to Clinton. Majorities of independent women say she is inspiring (57% compared with 41% of independent men), and down-to-earth (53% vs. 36%) and a greater number say she is patriotic (81% vs. 70% ). There are no significant gender differences in views of Clinton among Republicans.
Obama’s advantage over Clinton among independents and Republicans in personal traits is not as apparent when it comes to emotional responses to the candidates. A majority of all voters say that Obama has made them feel hopeful (54%), compared with 44% of voters who say this about Clinton.
Obama’s advantage over Clinton on this response is greatest among independent voters; 55% of independents say Obama has made them feel hopeful, compared with 38% who say Clinton has made them feel hopeful. Even among Republican voters, however, nearly twice as many say Obama has made them feel hopeful than say the same about Clinton (30% vs. 18%).
By contrast, there is no significant gap in feelings of pride associated with Clinton or Obama. Few Republicans say that either Clinton (18%) or Obama (21%) has made them feel proud, and comparable minorities of independents say Clinton and Obama have made them feel proud (34% and 39%, respectively).
About four-in-ten voters say that Clinton (42%) and Obama (38%) have made them feel uneasy. A solid majority of Republicans (63%) say that Clinton has made them feel uneasy, but about as many say the same about Obama (62%).
Obama inspires much less anger among voters (26% say he has made them feel angry) than does Clinton (42% say she has made them angry). While voters in all partisan groups are more likely to have felt anger at Clinton than at Obama, Clinton evokes intensely negative feelings among Republicans, in particular. Fully 58% of Republican voters say Clinton has made them feel angry, compared with 37% who say the same about Obama.
As is the case in views of personal traits, Clinton evokes consistently more positive (and fewer negative) feelings among independent women than among independent men. Four-in-ten independent women say Clinton has made them feel proud, compared with 28% of independent men). A slim majority (51%) of independent men have felt anger with Clinton, compared with 38% of independent women.