The era of Hope and Change may have given way to the era of Who’s Next? Gallup reports that just a little over a year into his presidency, Barack Obama has not only failed to unite the country, but has almost squandered his own electability. In their latest poll, Gallup finds Obama in a virtual tie with a generic Republican candidate, and the internals point to a much different turnout model than 2008:
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.
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.
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.
The influence of Obama’s personal likability appears to be influencing job approval. The difference between that and the percentage who would vote for his re-election is six points, which is outside the margin of error. Clearly, some people “approve” of Obama while disliking his performance enough to vote for an unnamed Republican challenger, at least at this point — and that’s something to keep in mind when looking at approval ratings in other polls, especially those based on likely voters.
That doesn’t tell the entire story, however. Obama won office by getting a majority of independents and some Republicans to vote for him, while getting a turnout that greatly favored Democrats in 2008. In this poll, only 31% of independents would cast a vote for Obama today, while 45% say they will vote for a Republican alternative. That fourteen-point gap also tells a story about how turnout will go for Obama in 2012. It may not be as dramatic as Massachusetts in their special election last month, but Obama is clearly not going to excite those new participants into the polls as he did in 2008. If anything, it looks like opposition will drive the independent vote, and Obama supporters perhaps unmotivated to show up at all.
Which Republican do Gallup respondents see in that position? The top five in order are Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, John McCain (?), Scott Brown, and Mike Huckabee. Bobby Jindal and Tim Pawlenty also appear on the list, as does Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, but 42% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents offered no name at all. Romney, topping the list, only got 14% of respondents to name him (unprompted). The field appears to be wide open, and voters appear to be open to a wide variety of candidates to challenge Obama for the White House — and that’s not a sign that Obama is impressing anyone with his performance thus far.
Addendum: John McCain? He got 7%, just behind his former running mate, who got 11%.