An early look at potential 2012 match-ups indicates that the election is likely shaping up as a referendum on President Obama. Thatâ€™s typical when an incumbent runs for reelection.
The numbers show that Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee essentially run even with Obama at this point. Romney is nominally up two points, 44% to 42%, while Huckabee is tied with the president at 43% apiece.
Three other well-known potential candidates, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul trail the president. Palin is down by 11 points, 49% to 38%, Gingrich by eight, 47% to 39%, and Paul by nine, 44% to 35%.
Romney, Palin, and Huckabee lead inÂ early Republican Primary polling.
The match-up surveys were conducted throughout January, 2011 by Rasmussen Reports. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted byÂ Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.
Seven lesser-known candidates trail by anywhere from 10 to 17 percentage points. However, the most significant finding is that regardless of what GOP candidate is named, the president earns between 42% and 49%. This suggests the campaign is starting off in a fairly competitive environment, though much can change in the next year-and-a-half.
If the presidentâ€™s job approval ratings improve from this point forward, it is likely that his support will increase against all Republican candidates. If his job approval ratings fall, his numbers are likely to weaken against all potential candidates. It is reasonably safe to assume that the presidentâ€™s actual vote total on Election Day 2012 will be close to his overall job approval rating.
Itâ€™s also worth noting that a great deal of caution must be taken in terms of interpreting individual results. It is far from clear which candidates will seek the Republican nomination and who ultimately will be nominated. At this point in 2008, everybody assumed the Democratic nominee would be Hillary Clinton, and Rudy Giuliani was leading the Republican field. One candidate on our list, Mike Pence, has already dropped out of the race. Other names will be tested in the coming weeks.
In 2004, the last election with a presidential incumbent, Howard Dean was an early front-runner. Early polling also showed him as the strongest general election contender against President Bush. However, as soon as John Kerry became the front-runner, his numbers jumped to where Deanâ€™s had been and Deanâ€™s polling slipped. Itâ€™s interesting to note that Kerry trailed Bush by three points on the night he became the front-runner, and he ended up losing the election by three percentage points. In 2008, Rasmussen tracking polls showed Obama leading McCain consistently by five or six points for the first month after Hillary Clinton bowed out of the race. Obama ended up winning by seven.
Here are the head-to-head match-ups and the dates the poll was conducted.
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