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Polling Shows Mixed Views of Ted Kennedy

5266166Sen. Edward Kennedy, the youngest brother of President John F. Kennedy and the third longest-serving Senator in U.S. history, had been a polarizing figure in American politics.

In a CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in August 2008, Americans voters were divided in their opinion of him: 34 percent held a favorable opinion, while 33 percent viewed him unfavorably. Not surprisingly, the Massachusetts Senator was more popular with Democrats than Republicans.

The poll was taken just before the 2008 Democratic convention where Sen. Kennedy delivered a speech supporting Barack Obama and talked of his signature issue, health care: Special Report: Ted Kennedy

"And this is the cause of my life -- new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American -- north, south, east, west, young, old -- will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege."

Total Dems Reps Ind
Favorable 34% 55% 13% 29%
Not Favorable 33% 10% 60% 37%
Undecided/Don't Know 30% 33% 25% 33%
No Answer 3% 2% 2% 1%
CBS NEWS/NYT POLL - AUGUST 2008 (registered voters)
Opinions of Sen. Kennedy were more positive in 2008 compared to 1995. Back in 1984, views of him were divided much as they are now. More voters viewed him negatively than positively back in September 1980, shortly after his unsuccessful run for the presidency.
8/2008 2/1995 3/1984 9/1980
Favorable 34% 27% 36% 31%
Not Favorable 33% 45% 36% 45%
Undecided/Don't Know 30% 27% 27% 24%
No Answer 3% 1% 1% 0%
2008, 1984 and 1980 results are for registered voters; 1995 results are for all Americans.

In January 2008, Sen. Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. The Senator's endorsement took place just days before Super Tuesday, February 5, 2008, when more than 20 states voted in Democratic primaries and caucuses.

According to CBS News exit polls, 50 percent of voters on Super Tuesday said Kennedy's endorsement was not important in their vote, but 46 percent said it was and among those voters 60 percent backed Barack Obama, while 37 percent voted for Hillary Clinton. Sen. Kennedy was unable to deliver Massachusetts to Barack Obama on February 5, 2008 (Clinton took the state that day) but Barack Obama coasted to victory in the reliably blue state in November.

A nationwide poll conducted by CNN earlier this month found that 51 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Sen. Kennedy, while 35 percent viewed him unfavorably. Unlike the CBS Poll, the CNN survey does not offer an "undecided" option in their question.

Sen. Kennedy remained popular in his home state. A poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire for The Boston Globe in July found that 60 percent of Massachusetts residents had a favorable opinion of their senior Senator. Thirty-four percent had an unfavorable view and five percent said they were neutral and one percent said they didn't know.

Read more on the life and death of Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy:

Obituary: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy Dies at 77
Reaction from Around the Country and the World
Excerpts of Famous Kennedy Speeches
U.S. Newspaper Obituaries
Kennedy's Career Forced in Public's Glare
No Immediate Action on Succession
Photo Gallery: Ted Kennedy
Katie Couric Reports On Kennedy's Life
CBS News Special Tonight at 8 p.m. ET: "The Last Brother" Special Report: Ted Kennedy

Jennifer De Pinto is manager of election and survey information for CBS News. Poll Positions is weekly Hotsheet feature on polling trends from the CBS News Survey and Polling Unit. Click here for more posts from the series.
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