Another poll that doesn’t really mean much at this point shows Barack Obama leading all of the potential Republican candidates in 2012:
Almost a year after his election as President, Barack Obama continues to lead his most likely 2012 rivals in hypothetical contests for reelection.
Obama leads Mike Huckabee 47-43, Mitt Romney 48-40, Sarah Palin 52-40, and Tim Pawlenty 50-30.
This is the seventh time PPP has conducted this poll and the seventh time Huckabee has polled closest to Obama. Speaking to the weakness of the field of potential Republican candidates he’s the only with a positive favorability rating and even then it’s only 33/29.
Huckabee’s doing well because he connects better than the other GOP hopefuls with voters in the Midwest and South. For instance while Romney, Palin, and Pawlenty trail by 9, 17, and 18 points respectively in the Midwest Huckabee is down by just 3, something that could be a good omen for his prospects of again winning the Iowa primary as he did in 2008.
Romney is actually the most popular of the Republican candidates with independents, sporting a 38/28 favorability rating with them and holding Obama to just a 41-40 lead. One thing he’ll probably have to contend with to a greater extent if he gets the 2012 nomination is his religion- 34% of respondents say they have an unfavorable opinion of it to 21% who look on it positively.
Palin’s numbers have been somewhat mystifying over the last four months. Immediately after her resignation they actually improved to a positive 47/45 favorability rating. Since then though they’ve plummeted even with her largely out of the public eye and only 36% of voters have a favorable view of her with 51% holding a negative one. She has by far the worst numbers with both Democrats and independents.
Somewhat counterintuitively the best news in this poll might be for Tim Pawlenty. Only 27% of respondents have an opinion of him and it breaks down negatively, 16/11. He trails Obama by the widest margin.
Full poll results here.
James Joyner agrees with me that these numbers don’t really mean much of anything right now, but also makes this interesting observation about the Republican field in 2012:
My strong hunch is that neither Huckabee nor Palin will be the Republican nominee. The party traditionally nominates the person whose “turn” it is, which would seemingly point to Romney. But given how sick everyone is with the Washington wing of the GOP, I wouldn’t be shocked if some governor who’s never run before emerges out of nowhere.
Meaning Tim Pawlenty, perhaps ?
Maybe, but James is right that the historical evidence makes Romney the favorite at this point. Just consider this list of Republican Presidential nominees going back to 1960
1. Richard Nixon, sitting Vice-President
2. Barry Goldwater, insurgent Senator
3. Richard Nixon, former Vice-President.
4. Gerald Ford, sitting President
5. Ronald Reagan, candidate for GOP nomination in 1968 and 1976
6. George H.W. Bush, sitting Vice-President
7. Bob Dole, former candidate for Vice-President (1976) and President (1988), five term Senator, Republican Senate Majority Leader at time of nominatiion
8. George W. Bush, Governor of Texas, son of former President
9. John McCain, former candidate for President (2000), three term Senator
With the exception of Barry Goldwater’s insurgent candidacy in 1964, every Republican Presidential nominee for the past 49 (by 2012, 52) years has been either the candidate most closely identified with the establishment of the party (i.e., George W. Bush) or someone who had run for, and nearly won, the nomination in the past (i.e., Reagan, Bush 41, Dole, McCain).
Given that pattern, Romney is clearly the one best positioned among the Republicans likely to run in 2012. Not only does he have claim to representing the conservative Republican establishment and the business establishment, he’s also a former candidate. Huckabee wouldn’t fall into this category because he clearly only represents one wing of the party.
And Palin ?
Well, let’s just say that the one thing the GOP establishment will be united about in 2012 is making sure that Sarah Palin is not the nominee.
Update: As Steve Eggleston points out in a comment, there’s an argument that even Barry Goldwater’s campaign was consistent with the Republican pattern:
Barry Goldwater actually finished well down in the 1960 election season, but he was the highest-finishing serious candidate to run in 1964, as everybody who finished ahead of him either chose not to run or couldn’t due to death.
True, and as Steve goes on to note in that post, every single Republican nominee since 1956 has either been a sitting President, a sitting or former Vice-President, the runner-up in a previous Presidential contest, or the candidate with the strongest next-in-line case (Goldwater in 64 and Bush in oo).
In 2012, the former status will belong to either Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney, depending on whether you base “runner-up” on the RNC delegate count (Huckabee in second by seven) or the amount of votes received in the primaries (Romney in second). For the reasons I set forth above, I think Romeny will have the advantage because of the ties he has built with the GOP establishment since he started running in 2007.