Washington, Nov.14 : In normal circumstances, reporters find it quite simple to judge a politician's popularity.
They look at the percentage of people who tell pollsters they have a "favorable" impression; they look at whether that number is rising or falling over time; and they look at whether the "favorable" number exceeds the "unfavorable" number.
But, in the case of Republican vice-presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the American media copped it big time.
They seemed to be taken by the big crowds that attended Palin's rallies and waxed rhapsodic about Palin's "middle-class magnetism, but ignored the national surveys.
According to Politico.com, they forgot that rallies are not representative of the general public.
According to CBS News polling, Palin never earned a majority favorable rating. From the Republican convention to Election Day - as more people got to know her - Palin's favorable number dropped seven points, her unfavorable rating almost doubled, and her positive number finished no higher than her negative number.
By contrast, Barack Obama's favorable rating surpassed his unfavorable rating by 15 points; Joe Biden's positive-to-negative gap exceeded 20 points.
In the end, it did not matter whether Palin was "a joy to work with," as McCain aides said publicly, or a "diva" and a "whack job," as some said privately. It did not matter whether she decided to buy the 150,000 dollars in new clothes, or the Republican National Committee bought them for her.
What mattered was her real and measurable effect on the broader American public, and it can be concluded that if Palin were a cereal, she'd be rushed off the shelf.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain picked her to do two things: rally the Republican base, and attract key swing voters, but by every conceivable measure, Palin failed.
Core Republican turnout declined 1.3 percent compared to four years ago, the Republican share of the electorate dropped five points from 2004 - and the depression of conservative voters was amplified in key states such as Ohio, where Obama won despite earning almost the same number of votes as John F. Kerry.
Palin also didn't help among women - they went for Obama by 13 points. She didn't help among independents - they went for Obama by 8 points. She didn't help among suburbanites - they went for Obama by 2 points. She didn't help among people with children under 18 - they went for Obama by 8 points.
Among all these groups, the 2008 Republican ticket performed worse than any successful nominees in their party's history.
The rule is that nobody votes for vice president - but this may have been the year nobody voted for Sarah Palin.