She told Oprah that it’s “not on my radar screen right now,” but … c’mon. It’s on everyone’s radar screen. Walter Shapiro games out the path to victory: Sweep to victory in Iowa on the evangelical vote, concede New Hampshire to Romney, then throw everything she’s got at the deep-red linchpin of South Carolina. Win there and you’ve got big mo heading into winner-take-all Florida; if Huck, Mitt, and a few others are still hanging around by then, they might split the anti-Palin vote several ways and she could squeak to victory with less than 40 percent, giving her likely unstoppable momentum the rest of the way. Easy peasy!

Except for this. From ABC/WaPo’s new poll:

palin-def

By comparison, only 42 percent said they definitely wouldn’t vote for the highly polarizing Hillary Clinton in July 2006. Those “definitely not” numbers will soften up a bit over time, but (a) it’s not, shall we say, optimal to start with a clear majority of the electorate dug in against you, and (b) I’m surprised at how small the “definitely” faction is. Statistically, it makes sense: If 40 percent of the country considers itself conservative and, say, 15-20 percent of those people are devoted Sarahcuda supporters, then you’re right in the ballpark, but it’s a testament to how vocal Palin fans are in defending her that their numbers seem a lot stronger than they actually are. More ABC:

Today 43 percent of Americans express a favorable opinion of Palin overall, while 52 percent see her unfavorably. Favorability is the most basic measure of a public figure’s popularity; in politics, where majorities win, it’s trouble when it goes negative, as it’s been for Palin since October 2008…

Palin moreover fails a basic hurdle on the road to the White House, were she to choose to take it: Just 38 percent of Americans see her as qualified to serve as president; 60 percent think she’s not qualified for the job

Just under a quarter of Republicans rule out supporting her for president; that rises to half of independents and three-quarters of Democrats. And 61 percent of Republicans see Palin as qualified for the presidency – an underwhelming score in her own party, and one that falls to 37 percent of independents and 22 percent among Democrats.

The silver lining: Some of these numbers are actually an improvement over recent polls. PPP’s latest temperature check on 2012 had her favorables at 36/51, with independents split 34/48. ABC’s poll, by contrast, has her up to 45 percent approval among indies, a number that’s bound to rise as the backlash to Hopenchange statism pulls more of them towards the right. Maybe the book buzz is starting to polish her image? As for that 60 percent figure on qualifications, it too is an improvement (a double-digit improvement, in fact) over CNN’s notoriously gruesome poll result from last month. The bad news? CNN re-polled the question this week to coincide with her book launch and the current number who say she’s unqualified is still 70 percent, with only 29 percent of independents bucking the trend. (A majority of Republicans, 54/44, think she’s ready to serve, but 63 percent say the same about Mitt and Huck by comparison.)

Long story short, as things stand, she’s a threat to win the GOP nomination but an almost certain loser in the general election unless economic conditions have deteriorated to the point where any Republican would be a threat to knock off Obama. But if any Republican would stand a good chance of winning, why would the GOP nominate the one Republican who would galvanize the Democrats in opposition? The more beatable Obama looks, the greater the temptation will be to nominate an inoffensive “electable” candidate like Romney and make the election a referendum on The One’s record; the less beatable Obama looks, the greater the temptation to roll the dice and nominate a lightning rod like Palin who can draw media attention away from Obama. Exit question one: Er, why would she (or anyone else) want to run if Obama doesn’t look beatable, i.e. if the economy starts coming back and unemployment begins to decrease? Exit question two: If Obama does look beatable, what can the RNC do to tilt the table away from Palin and towards some more “electable” candidates? Follow the Shapiro link and read the end for a few ideas.

Update: Ah, I missed this earlier. Even more evidence, this time via Rasmussen, that the book might be helping her rebound: Among likely voters, her favorables are 51/43. That’s starkly different from the poll of polls at Pollster.com, but likely voters are ultimately the only ones who matter.