The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll has a double whammy of bad news for President Barack Obama: (1) He is being politically battered by the economy and (2) former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney now leads him in the poll:
An announcement bump for Mitt Romney and a bus-tour boost for Sarah Palin put the pair atop the field for the Republican presidential nomination. But while their primary standings are similar, their broader prospects for election look vastly different.
Romney appears formidable: In a general-election trial heat in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll he runs evenly with Barack Obama among all Americans, and numerically outpoints him, 49-46 percent, among registered voters — not a statistically significant lead, given sampling error, but a clear reflection of Obama’s vulnerability to a well-positioned challenger.
The reason: the economy. The challenge for Romney: getting the GOP nomination from a party in which a sizeable faction distrusts him, doesn’t like him, or isn’t excited by him. The upside: the poll shows that other Republicans would not run as well against Obama.
Romney, though, is the only Republican to run that well; Obama leads all other potential opponents tested in this poll — Palin, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman. Palin fares worst, trailing Obama by 17 points among all adults, 15 points among registered voters.
This part of the poll suggests — again — that if Palin gets in the race GOP political pros and the GOP political establishment will likely move quickly to try and squelch her candidacy by flocking to someone else. ABC finds that Palin faces “daunting challenges.”
Sixty-four percent of Americans say they definitely will not vote for her for president, a new high. Sixty-three percent describe her as unqualified for the job, below its peak but still a substantial majority. Even in her own party, among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 41 percent rule out voting for her and 39 percent see her as unqualified.
Overall, 21 percent of leaned Republicans support Romney for the nomination, 17 percent Palin, with all others in single digits. Still, while those two lead, the flipside is that each is not supported by eight in 10 potential GOP voters, indicating plenty of room to move as the field coalesces and voters tune in. Today just 22 percent of Americans (and 24 percent of leaned Republicans) are following the 2012 presidential election very closely.
There is, moreover, a continued lack of enthusiasm for the Republican field.
*** Obama vs. the economy: If you needed any more proof that President Obama is running more against the economy than the Republican field, just look at the latest Washington Post/ABC poll. Conducted during the worst economic news the White House has encountered since last summer, the poll shows Obama trailing Mitt Romney by three points among registered voters, 49%-46%, and tied among all respondents. The reason: Romney outperforms Obama with independents. More from the poll: “Overall, about six in 10 of those surveyed give Obama negative marks on the economy and the deficit. Significantly, nearly half strongly disapprove of his performance in these two crucial areas. Nearly two-thirds of political independents disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy, including — for the first time — a slim majority who do so strongly.”
The poll’s likely impact? More likely than ever anti-Romney GOPers will be looking for a strong candidate to stop him — just as Republican establishment types will move heaven and earth to stop Palin if she looks like she is poised to win the nomination.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.