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Voters Divided Over Obama vs. Republican Candidate in 2012

Republicans most often mention Romney, Palin as preferred candidate

PRINCETON, NJ -- Registered voters are about equally divided as to whether they would more likely vote to re-elect Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, or vote for the Republican candidate.

If Barack Obama Runs for Re-Election in 2012, in General, Are You More Likely to Vote for Obama or for the Republican Party's Candidate for President?

These results are based on a Feb. 1-3 Gallup poll. Forty-four percent of U.S. registered voters say they are more likely to vote for Obama, 42% for the Republican candidate, and the remaining 14% are undecided or would vote for another candidate.

"It is clear at this early date that most Republicans have not developed a preference, with 42% not having an opinion or volunteering that they do not prefer any candidate."

A year into his first term as president, Obama's approval ratings are hovering around 50%. The 50% approval figure has been a strong predictor of an incumbent president's re-election: presidents who averaged 50% or better from January of an election year through Election Day have all been re-elected. This includes George W. Bush, who averaged 51% in 2004, though his approval rating was 48% in Gallup's final pre-election poll.

Most Democratic voters and Republican voters plan to support their own party's candidate for president in the 2012 election. Independents currently show a greater preference for the Republican candidate than for Obama, by 45% to 31%, though about one in four do not have an opinion. However, even with independents leaning in the Republican candidate's direction, Obama is tied among all voters because of the greater proportion of Democratic identifiers in the registered voter population.

Vote Preference for 2012 Presidential Election, by Political Party Affiliation

The re-election question pits Obama against an unnamed Republican candidate. Several prominent Republicans have already visited the early caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, and later this year, some may announce their intention to seek the party's nomination.

The poll asked Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to name, without prompting, whom they would most like to see as the party's 2012 presidential candidate. It is clear at this early date that most Republicans have not developed a preference, with 42% not having an opinion or volunteering that they do not prefer any candidate.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are most frequently mentioned, by 14% and 11%, respectively. Seven percent mention Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 nominee. Newly elected Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, former Arkansas Gov. and 2008 candidate Mike Huckabee, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich are each mentioned by at least 3% of Republicans.

Just Off the Top of Your Head, Which Republican Would You Most Like to See as the Party's Candidate for President in the 2012 Election? Among Republicans and Republican-Leaning Independents

Whereas conservative (15%) and moderate or liberal (14%) Republicans are about equally likely to mention Romney as their preferred nominee, Palin is much more likely to be mentioned by conservatives (14%) than by moderates and liberals (3%). Conservatives generally outnumber moderates and liberals by about 2 to 1 within the Republican Party.

When Gallup asked Republicans last July which of several candidates they would be most likely to support in the 2012 primaries, Romney, Palin, and Huckabee received the most support.

Early tests of nomination preferences often reflect candidates' name recognition as much as their potential viability as candidates. Historically, however, early Republican front-runners usually have won the party's nomination. That did not hold in 2008, however, as Rudy Giuliani typically led early nomination tests but performed poorly in the primaries and caucuses, with McCain emerging as the eventual nominee.

Bottom Line

American voters are at this point about equally divided as to whether they would re-elect Obama or the Republican candidate as president. The current data update Obama's re-election prospects, but generally would not hold much predictive value for the actual election outcome more than two years from now. As the election draws near, such trial-heat races -- in addition to his approval rating -- become more predictive of the ultimate outcome.

Obama's re-election chances partly hinge on whom the Republicans nominate, because it is not clear whether a "generic" Republican (as measured in the current data) would perform better or worse than a specific candidate. At this point, Romney and Palin can be considered the early front-runners for the GOP nomination, a position that has proven advantageous in most past Republican nomination campaigns.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,025 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 1-3, 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 942 registered voters, the maximum margin of error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 490 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, the maximum margin of error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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