“Generic Republican” Continues To Lead Obama In Head-To-Head Match

They call him “Generic Republican,” but you could also call him The Unknown Candidate. Whatever you call him, though, he’s beating the President of the United States in a head-to-head matchup:

 U.S. registered voters, by 46% to 38%, continue to say they are more likely to vote for the Republican presidential candidate than for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election. The generic Republican led by the same eight-percentage-point margin in September, and also held a lead in July. The August update, conducted just after an agreement to raise the federal debt limit, had Obama with a slight edge.

Unfortunately for Republicans, history doesn’t really provide much of a guide for polls like this and things look much different when the President goes head-to-head against actual candidates:

Gallup has used the generic ballot in years prior to a presidential election when an incumbent was running for re-election and the opposition did not have an obvious front-runner for its presidential candidate, including 1991 and 2003. In October 1991, George H.W. Bush was leading a generic Democratic candidate by 17 points (49% to 32%), though his lead would shrink in subsequent polls and he ultimately lost to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election. In October 2003, George W. Bush had a slight edge over a generic Democratic candidate, 46% to 43%. He won re-election narrowly over John Kerry in 2004.

Obama looks a bit stronger than he does on the generic ballot when he is matched against actual Republican presidential candidates. Gallup found the president essentially tied with Mitt Romney and with Rick Perry in its most recent update, from mid-September. In mid-August, Obama was also competitive with the leading Republican contenders at that time.

Obama’s stronger performance versus actual Republican candidates than on the generic ballot indicates the Republican candidates are perhaps underperforming, which may show a general lack of enthusiasm for the party’s leading presidential contenders among the electorate.

Or, it may mean nothing at all. We’re more than a year away from the General Election and huge swaths of the American public are not paying the same amount of attention to the Presidential race that political pundits, bloggers, and political junkies are. For the most part, the President’s standing in these polls is a reflection of his overall job approval, which remains exceedingly negative, than it is of any evaluation of the merits of one candidate versus another. The discrepancy between the “generic” Republican and specific candidates is something we’ve seen in the past too, and is likely a reflection of the fact that many of these candidates aren’t nearly as well known to the public as the President is.

Of more significance, I think, is the fact that the President continues to underperform with Independent voters, a key demographic in the upcoming election:

The saving grace for Obama is that there’s still a substantial portion of the Independent demographic that is undecided, but unless they break for him substantially he’s going to find himself in trouble in states like Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, and Colorado.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. legion says:

    The saving grace for Obama is that there’s still a substantial portion of the Independent demographic that is undecided
    No, Obama’s saving grace is that there are no “Generic Republicans” running. As unsatisfied as a lot of people are with him, they’re still pretty sure that exactly none of the GOP’s current crop is offering any kind of improvement. If they offered any legitimate “good” ideas, there’s a chance they might get used to make Americans’ lives better before the election, and we can’t have that, now can we?

  2. Hey Norm says:

    Does this mythical Generic Republican have any ideas besides tax cuts for the rich, and polluting the air and water? Because if he/she did…I might vote for him/her myself.
    Unfortunately all the Republicans with Real Names are devoid of new ideas.

  3. Tlaloc says:

    Now that the primary process is narrowing down for the GOP it’s of limited use to poll Obama vs Generic. For checking his personal popularity you might as well just use the favorability numbers.

  4. Dave says:

    unless they break for him substantially he’s going to find himself in trouble in states like Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, and Colorado.

    What’s tough for the Republicans is that Obama could lose all four of those states PLUS Florida and still win the election.

  5. Rick Almeida says:

    The pic of the Unknown Comic took me back to The Gong Show. I wonder who’d win a primary between The Unknown Comic and Gene Gene, the Dancing Machine.

  6. george says:


    Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

  7. de stijl says:

    @Rick Almeida:

    Gene, Gene The Dancing Machine in a landslide. Much more personality.

    Who would you rather have a beer with (and why has this question become the primary deciding point for many voters)?

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Generic Republican

    Haven’t seen that name on a ballot in a long time…..

  9. The reason President Obama is low in the polls is he and most of the Democrats in Congress are bought out by Corporations. The old Democratic Party was for the people that voted them into office. The Health Care bill was more in favor for the insurance companies than for most of us. My insurance went up this year. I did not get a cost of living raise this year or last year. Since the Democrats have been in control of the house or senate my net take home retirement pay is less than it was in 2004. That’s not saying much for Democrats. Republicans are much worse. Being I have droped out of the Democratic Party and became a Socialist Democrat, I still will not vote. I would only vote if enough Socialist Democrats ran because they would not let Corporation tell them what bills to make or say yes to any bad bills that was not in favor of the middle class and poor. The word poor is a word Congress hardly ever brings up. Obama is down because he is too far to the middle right. He and the Democrat Congress should be saying a whole lot about the poor and to bring their incomes up. The retired and disability people make up a few million people.

  10. @Hey Norm: I voted for President Obama, but him and the Democrats in Congress sure have let down all the retired and disabled people. For the last two years no cost of living increases in pay, yet the cost of living has sky-rocketed. All the years I worked for the Federal Government and been retired for several years, the last two years was the only time we didn’t get a cost of living increase in pay. Most of them did not keep up with the real cost of living, but getting one every year only put me in a hole a very few times. Health insurance ate up most every one we got. Our buying power has gone down a whole lot for most retired and disabled people since Reagan. I retired into the middle class. As the screwed up result of small cost of living increases in pay each year, I am now in the poor class income group. Now, I’m a Socialist Democrat and the now Democrats will not get my vote. Republicans are much worse.

  11. Lark says:

    It’s great to read something that’s both enjoyable and provides pragmatisdc suotlions.

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