Generic Republican Ties Obama In New Gallup Poll, Actual Republicans Not So Much

President Obama isn't unbeatable in 2012. but it's clear even now that he's going to be a far more formidable opponent than many Republicans seem to think.

If you’re a Republican and you want to defeat President Obama in 2012, the best option may be to nominate The Unknown Candidate:

PRINCETON, NJ — U.S. registered voters are evenly split about whether they would back President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012 (45%) or “the Republican Party’s candidate” (45%). This is similar to the results for the same question when it was asked a year ago.

Results from a parallel question Gallup asked during the presidencies of George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush show both of those presidents performing better on this re-elect measure at comparable points in their third years in office than Obama does today.

In polling from October 2001 through January 2004, George W. Bush consistently led an unnamed Democratic opponent, although by a shrinking margin as his job approval rating descended from a post-9/11 reading of 87% to the 50s and 60s. In February 2003, the point in Bush’s presidency comparable to Obama’s presidency today, Bush beat a generic Democrat among registered voters by 47% to 39%.

Gallup trends during George H.W. Bush’s tenure were asked mostly during his third year in office, and show a similar descent in the elder Bush’s standing vis-à-vis an unnamed Democrat. However, Bush’s position switched from a strong lead — 54% to 33% — in February 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, to a slight deficit (39% to 43%) in early January 1992.

The results are similar in a new Public Policy Polling survey (PDF), but the situation is different once you put the President up against a Republican with a name:

He may be tied with a generic Republican but Obama leads against all of the named candidates in this poll. He has a 3 point advantage over Mike Huckabee at 47-44, a 5 point one over Mitt Romney at 46-41, a 9 point one over Newt Gingrich at 49-40, a 9 point one also over Ron Paul at 48-39, a 12 point one over Sarah Palin at 52-40, a 14 point one over Jeb Bush at 50-36, and a 14 point one over Donald Trump at 48-34.

Obama does better against the real Republicans than the generic ones for a very simple reason: with the exception of Huckabee voters just don’t like any of those folks. Huckabee does have a positive favorability rating, at 36/30. The rest are all in negative territory: Jeb Bush’s net favorability is -8 (29/37), Mitt Romney’s is -9 (33/42), Ron Paul’s is -21 (24/45), Sarah Palin’s is -22 (34/56), Newt Gingrich’s is -25 (27/52), and Donald Trump’s is -29 (27/56).


The big takeaway from this poll: Obama is certainly still vulnerable but whether the GOP’s going to be able to take advantage of that vulnerability is an open question. And the Republican base might be its own worst enemy when it comes to whether it’s willing to nominate the kind of candidate who can win in November.

Obama may be vulnerable, but he’s far stronger than you’d think a President in power when the unemployment rate hovers near 10% and the economy remains anemic at best ought to be. In fact, despite the continued unpopularity of his signature health care bill and the fact that his party suffered historic losses in the midterm elections, Barack Obama’s job approval is higher now than it was a year ago:

If the economy improves over the next eighteen months, as most analysts expect that it will, then the President’s approval numbers are only going to rise, and he is going to become and even more formidable candidate than he is now. That’s not to say he’s unbeatable, of course, but if the GOP is going to beat him they’re going to have to come up with a better candidate than what they’ve got now.

Or, maybe they just need to find a guy named “Generic Republican.”

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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. Funny how this works, as I always prefer my perfect fantasy candidate to the guy currently in office. Who knew?

  2. TG Chicago says:

    “In fact, despite the continued unpopularity of his signature health care bill and the fact that his party suffered historic losses in the midterm elections, Barack Obama’s job approval is higher now than it was a year ago”

    My guess for why that is: he finally threw a bone to progressives — DADT repeal. Before that, progressives have had little reason to approve of his job performance.

  3. Axel Edgren says:

    “Before that, progressives have had little reason to approve of his job performance.”

    I wish I had more faces and palms so I could facepalm enough.

  4. Derrick says:

    Also in news, my wife is an hypothetical tie in the Derrick Poll with my fantasy candidate of a combination of Angelina Jolie’s body, Hallie Berry’s face, Christiane Amanpour’s brain and Sarah Palin’s bank account.

  5. Neil Hudelson says:


    Uncannily, that is also my fantasy candidate for President…

  6. I would generally agree that the Preident’s position is precarious, but not deadly. If the economy does indeed improve then he will look a lot better, but I would still consider these numbers concerning.

  7. floyd says:

    Anyone who suggests an Obama defeat in 2012 is naive about the state of American politics and he underestimates David Axelrod’s abiliities.

  8. Smooth Jazz says:

    “but if the GOP is going to beat him they’re going to have to come up with a better candidate than what they’ve got now.”

    I agree that Obama is going to be tough to beat if the economy improves; Incumbents are usually tough to beat when all is right on the economic & jobs front. Besides, we like to give our Presidents 2 terms unless they provide us a compelling reason to throw them out.

    But I disagree that ALL the Rep candidates being talked about now are definite losers against him. Of course, certain candidates have no chance of being elected, but there is a “coalescing” that takes place after the Rep nominee is identified that may change that dynamic. Meaning, the succesful candiadte may be able to increase their support and even pull in Repubs currently leaning to Obama if they do well enough. For someone to win the nomination, it likely means they’ve done well during the primaries and would likely result in more support compared to where they are today.

    I say let them all fight it out and go from there. Let’s see them all on the same stage together and how they respond in debates and on the stump. Then we can more accurately assess the polls versus Obama.

  9. Kylopod says:

    Maybe they should nominate Watson?

  10. mantis says:

    Before that, progressives have had little reason to approve of his job performance.


    A selection of Obama’s kept promises from PolitiFact. Pretty sure progressives like a lot of these:

    No. 4: Extend child tax credits and marriage-penalty fixes
    No. 16: Increase minority access to capital
    No. 33: Establish a credit card bill of rights
    No. 36: Expand loan programs for small businesses
    No. 37: Extend the Bush tax cuts for lower incomes
    No. 38: Extend the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 (couples) or $200,000 (single)
    No. 48: Close the “doughnut hole” in Medicare prescription drug plan
    No. 51: Require insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions
    No. 53: Give tax credits to those who need help to pay health premiums
    No. 55: Require large employers to contribute to a national health plan
    No. 56: Require children to have health insurance coverage
    No. 57: Expand eligibility for Medicaid
    No. 58: Expand eligibility for State Children’s Health Insurance Fund (SCHIP)
    No. 63: Require health plans to disclose how much of the premium goes to patient care
    No. 65: Establish an independent health institute to provide accurate and objective information
    No. 69: In non-competitive markets, force insurers to pay out a reasonable share of their premiums for patient care
    No. 70: Eliminate the higher subsidies to Medicare Advantage plans
    No. 93: Reinstate executive order to hire an additional 100,000 federal employees with disabilities within five years.
    No. 105: Increase the Veterans Administration budget to recruit and retain more mental health
    No. 109: Fully fund the Veterans Administration
    No. 113: Expand the Veterans Administration’s number of “centers of excellence” in specialty care
    No. 121: Fully fund the Violence Against Women Act
    No. 125: Direct military leaders to end war in Iraq
    No. 126: Begin removing combat brigades from Iraq
    No. 132: No permanent bases in Iraq
    No. 161: End the abuse of supplemental budgets for war
    No. 167: Make U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional on anti-terror efforts
    No. 172: Open “America Houses” in Islamic cities around the globe
    No. 182: Allocate Homeland Security funding according to risk
    No. 195: Seek verifiable reductions in nuclear stockpiles
    No. 196: Extend monitoring and verification provisions of the START I Treaty
    No. 197: Stand down nuclear forces to be reduced under the Moscow Treaty
    No. 215: Create a rapid response fund for emerging democracies
    No. 222: Grant Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send money to Cuba
    No. 225: Establish an Energy Partnership for the Americas
    No. 229: Expand the Nurse-Family Partnership to all low-income, first-time mothers
    No. 239: Release presidential records
    No. 241: Require new hires to sign a form affirming their hiring was not due to political affiliation or contributions.
    No. 244: Provide affordable, high-quality child care
    No. 247: Recruit math and science degree graduates to the teaching profession
    No. 259: Reduce subsidies to private student lenders and protect student borrowers
    No. 269: Increase funding for national parks and forests
    No. 275: Expand Pell grants for low-income students
    No. 290: Push for enactment of Matthew Shepard Act, which expands hate crime law to include sexual orientation and other factors
    No. 293: Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy
    No. 315: Establish ‘Promise Neighborhoods’ for areas of concentrated poverty
    No. 359: Rebuild schools in New Orleans
    No. 371: Fund a major expansion of AmeriCorps
    No. 411: Work to overturn Ledbetter vs. Goodyear
    No. 422: Create new financial regulations
    No. 427: Ban lobbyist gifts to executive employees
    No. 433: Sign a “universal” health care bill
    No. 435: Create new criminal penalties for mortgage fraud
    No. 449: Raise fuel economy standards
    No. 458: Invest in all types of alternative energy
    No. 483: Invest in public transportation
    No. 495: Double federal spending for research on clean fuels
    No. 500: Increase funding for the Environmental Protection Agency
    No. 507: Extend unemployment insurance benefits and temporarily suspend taxes on these benefits
    No. 513: Reverse restrictions on stem cell research

  11. mantis says:

    For someone to win the nomination, it likely means they’ve done well during the primaries

    It’s true. The nominee will likely have done well in the primaries.

  12. Pug says:

    For someone to win the nomination, it likely means they’ve done well during the primaries

    “Whoever scores the most points is going to win this game today!”

  13. Wiley Stoner says:

    Can you say President Sarah Palin?

  14. Can you say President Sarah Palin?

    Not without laughing hysterically

  15. TG Chicago says:

    @mantis: Can you point to small accomplishments? Yes. You can, and you did.

    But when you look at the big picture in regards to healthcare, energy, transparency, executive power overreach, wars, civil liberties, tax policy, immigration, and oversight of the financial system, I think that what few things were accomplished are greatly overshadowed by what was left on the table.