It’s still far too early to start debating the nomination for the 2012 presidential election — and for that, Barack Obama can be grateful, at least for a while.  In the latest CNN poll, voters overwhelmingly support his renomination … but not his re-election.  Instead, half of all voters prefer a generic Republican, while Obama only gets 45%, as Hotline digs into the history:

Pres. Obama trails a generic GOPer in a WH ’12 re-election bid, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released today. Among registered voters, fully half, 50%, said they were more likely to vote for a generic GOPer, while just 45% said they were more likely to vote for Obama.

While the numbers are striking, the generic ballot at this stage doesn’t always mean the incumbent pres. is destined for just one term. Prior to his re-election bid, George W. Bush never trailed a generic Dem, according to trends from what was then the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. The closest a generic Dem came to Bush was 47-43% in Sept. ’03.

Bill Clinton, on the other hand, trailed a generic opponent from the GOP by wide margins. In Dec. ’94, a month after his party was drubbed at the polls in the midterm elections, the generic GOP candidate led Clinton, 53-39%.

True, and that was one reason why Clinton’s party got drubbed at the polls.  Afterward, Clinton shifted towards the middle and adopted welfare reform and budget discipline while abandoning the government takeover of the health care system.  In 1996, Clinton declared the era of big government “dead” — and still only got to 48% of the popular vote in that election, winning again thanks to Ross Perot’s third-party campaign.

Which Republican gets the most support at this time?  According to CNN — which didn’t supply partisan split data from the sample, by the way — Mitt Romney narrowly edges Sarah Palin.  The top five are:

  • Mitt Romney – 21%
  • Sarah Palin – 18%
  • Newt Gingrich – 15%
  • Mike Huckabee – 14%
  • Ron Paul – 10%

The rest fall into the noise, garnering 2-3% each and “someone else” attracting 6%.  CNN did not conduct head-to-head polling on specific candidates, or if they did, those results were not part of this release.

However, they did get the breakdown on whether voters would support a primary challenge by a generic Democrat in 2012.  The data doesn’t look good for Hillary Clinton.  Almost three-quarters of all voters support Obama’s renomination (74/23), which extends to 78/19 among Democrats and only declines to 64/33 among independents.  Independents, though, prefer a generic Republican to Obama by a wide margin (52/39), which seems to suggest that they’d like Obama to be on the ticket in order to vote against him.