Southern Comfort?

Anthony Salvanto is with the CBS News Election and Survey Unit.

Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia is giving the keynote speech at the Republican convention, but can he bring southern votes with him to the GOP side? There is evidence that some Southerners — including some Democrats — are more receptive than others to the president's appeal on certain matters, particularly the war on terror and Iraq.

Voters in the South do hold a more favorable view of the president compared to the rest of the nation as a whole.

OPINION OF GEORGE W. BUSH
(REGISTERED VOTERS)

South
Favorable
47%
Unfavorable
40%

Non-South
Favorable
39%
Unfavorable
45%

Source: Combined CBS News Polls since Democratic convention, July and August 2004.

One of Miller's strongest praises for Mr. Bush comes for his performance as commander-in-chief. Among southern voters, the feeling that the war with Iraq was the right thing to do is stronger than in the nation outside the region — though even there, four in ten voters think the U.S. should have stayed out.

IRAQ: MILITARY ACTION WAS …

South
Right Thing
53%
U.S. should've stayed out
39%

Non-South
Right Thing
44%
U.S. should've stayed out
49%

Source: Combined CBS News Polls since Democratic convention, July and August 2004.

And in the south, President Bush also gets somewhat higher marks for his handling of the overall war on terror.

BUSH JOB ON HANDLING TERROR

South
Approve
57%
Disapprove
33%

Non-South
Approve
52%
Disapprove
41%

Source: Combined CBS News Polls since Democratic convention, July and August 2004.

Of particular interest this year may be Southern Democrats and especially white southern Democrats. While most African-Americans are already solidly behind John Kerry, Democrats have held out some hope this year of improving their standing among the Southern white voters who helped George W. Bush sweep the south four years ago.

For those voters, though, Miller may be on to something: the Iraq war finds comparably much stronger support among white southern Democrats in the South than it does with other Democrats.

DEMOCRATIC VOTERS: VIEWS ON IRAQ

White Southern Democrats
Right thing
35%
U.S. should have stayed out
55%

All Democrats
Right thing
17%
U.S. should have stayed out
75%

Source: Combined CBS News Polls since Democratic convention, July and August 2004.

The President's handling of the overall war on terror also finds relatively more favor among white southern Democrats than it does among all Democrats nationally.

DEMOCRATIC VOTERS: BUSH'S HANDLING OF THE WAR ON TERROR

White Southern Democrats
Approve
30%
Disapprove
60%

All Democrats
Approve
22%
Disapprove
67%

Source: Combined CBS News Polls since Democratic convention, July and August 2004.

So Miller and the Republicans may try to get these southern voters to focus on these aspects of the Bush Presidency. For now, though, in overall views of Mr. Bush, partisanship trumps region. White Southern Democrats — like Democrats everywhere — have a resoundingly negative view of President Bush's overall job performance.

DEMOCRATS: BUSH OVERALL JOB APPROVAL
(REGISTERED VOTERS)

White Southern Democrats
Approve
14%
Disapprove
81%

All Democrats
Approve
12%
Disapprove
82%

Source: Combined CBS News Polls since Democratic convention, July and August 2004.

Sen. Miller has not been shy about saying he feels his own party has become generally too liberal. Southern voters are a bit more likely to call themselves conservatives than voters elsewhere in America, and less likely to say they are liberal. Moderates, though, make up the largest portion of the voting ranks both in and outside the South.

IDEOLOGY

South
Conservative
37%
Moderate
45%
Liberal
15%

Non-South
Conservative
32%
Moderate
44%
Liberal
21%

Source: Combined CBS News Polls since Democratic convention, July and August 2004.

And Miller may find some empathy among voters and among the delegates in the audience. The South has been home to many Democrats-turned-Republicans since the Democratic "Solid South" began eroding more than 30 years ago, and today, among Republican voters nationwide, just over one in four say they were once Democrats — and the South contributes a greater percent of those voters than any other region.

REPUBLICAN VOTERS WHO WERE ONCE DEMOCRATs COME FROM …

Northeast
23%
South
33%
Midwest
30%
West
14%

Twenty-eight percent of RNC delegates surveyed by CBS News and the New York Times say there was a time when they once considered themselves Democrats, too, and delegates from the South are a bit more likely to say this than those elsewhere.

By Anthony M. Salvanto