2012 Presidential Election: Obama Struggles, Ditto for GOP Lineup

VIDEO: New poll shows presidents lowest approval rating with economy as top issue.
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President Obama has gotten no bounce from his reelection campaign announcement, with his job approval rating dropping by 7 percentage points since January, his personal popularity at a career low and 57 percent of Americans disapproving of his handling of the economy. Yet he leads the potential GOP field.

There are chances for the Republicans in next year's elections, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, in particular, nipping close to Obama in the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll. Economic pessimism, its highest in two years amid soaring gas prices, raises serious political peril for the president. But he benefits from two factors: personal approval that, while down, still exceeds his job rating, and substantial doubts about the opposing party's lineup.

Charts and Questionnaire

Forty-three percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they're satisfied with the choice of candidates for the GOP nomination for president next year, compared with 65 percent satisfaction with the field at exactly this point four years ago. Nearly as many leaning-Republicans are dissatisfied with the field as are satisfied, and far more have no opinion of their potential candidates: 17 percent now vs. 3 percent at this point in 2007.

Some of this likely reflects the late-breaking lineup, with none of the potential major GOP candidates yet to join the race officially. By this time in 2007, all but Sen. John McCain of Arizona were in, and he joined a week later.

In any case, the Republican options haven't lit any fires. Asked whom they'd support for the nomination today, a third of leaning-Republicans have no preference and 12 percent say they wouldn't support anyone. Sixteen percent back Romney in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates. All other possible runners are in single digits: businessman Donald Trump, 8 percent; Huckabee, 6 percent; former Alaska Gov. and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, 5 percent; others, 2 percent or less.

Trump, while far from broadly popular, is a newly launched possible candidate who possesses celebrity and a willingness to wade into controversy by, for example, questioning Obama's nationality. A television personality and wealthy real estate developer, he does best (14 percent support) among leaning-Republicans with incomes exceeding $100,000 a year. He also does slightly better with strong supporters of the Tea Party political movement, who hold Obama in particular antipathy.

Obama, GOP Lineup Struggle

Romney, for his part, does well among more-educated leaning-Republicans (29 percent support among college graduates vs. 11 percent among non-graduates) and among those with higher incomes (30 percent among leaning-Republicans with incomes more than $100,000). A Mormon, he gets as much support from evangelical as from non-evangelical Protestants. But there's a hint in the data that he might do slightly better with moderates than with conservatives in the party, a potential challenge in low-turnout primaries where conservatives tend to dominate.

Compared with four years ago, satisfaction with the choice of candidates is lower especially among higher-income and more-educated leaning-Republicans. And satisfaction today is lower among moderate Republicans (35 percent satisfied) than among conservatives, 47 percent. Compared with 2007, though, it's down sharply in both groups.

2012 Presidential Matchups

In a head-to-head matchup among all adults, Obama leads Trump by 12 points, 52-40 percent; Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota by an identical 12 points; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich by 15 points each; and Palin by 17. Closer, as noted, are Huckabee, who trails Obama by 50-44 percent; and Romney, who comes within a scant 4 points, with 45 percent to Obama's 49.

Notably, both Romney and Huckabee move numerically ahead of Obama, by 49-44 percent and 48-45 percent, respectively, among independents, the quintessential swing voters in national elections. All other Republicans tested in this poll trail Obama among independents.

Romney outperforms other potential GOP candidates in higher-income brackets, leading Obama by 11 points among people in $100,000-plus households, a group in which Obama ran evenly against McCain in 2008.

Obama won independents by 52-44 percent in 2008; now, as noted, more favor Romney. Obama's support among whites is about the same now as in 2008 (he's losing them to Romney by 13 points), but he's somewhat down from his levels in some other groups, including young voters (60 percent, vs. 66 percent in 2008), liberals (84 percent, vs. 89 percent in 2008) and, notably, moderates (53 percent, vs. 60 percent in 2008).

The Economy

Obama remains most imperiled, and Republicans best assisted, by the public's long-running -- and now heightened -- economic discontent. Forty-four percent say the economy's getting worse, the most since March 2009; these pessimists (disproportionately Republicans) favor any of the possible GOP candidates for president over Obama by double digits.

Economic Views Worsen

Beyond the economy overall, and despite declining unemployment, more say the availability of jobs in their area is getting worse (37 percent) than better (26 percent). And most striking is the weight of rising prices: Seventy-eight percent of Americans say inflation is getting worse in their area, and nearly as many, 71 percent, continue to say the rising price of gasoline is causing them financial hardship ("serious" hardship for more than four in 10).

As noted, 57 percent now disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy, matching the most of his career; 46 percent "strongly" disapprove, a new high and double the number of strong approvers. Overall disapproval of Obama's work on the economy has risen by 6 percentage points since January, shortly before improved economic views were hammered down by this year's steep, 74-cent run-up in gas prices.

Views that the economy is worsening have increased by 21 points this year, up particularly in the West, where gas prices are highest, as well as among men, independents and Republicans.

Approval and Favorability

Where the economy leads, presidential approval usually follows. For the first time since September, numerically more Americans now disapprove than approve of Obama's job performance, 50 percent vs. 47 percent; at 37 percent, the number who "strongly" disapprove is a point from the record, and exceeds strong approvers by 10 points.

Obama's job rating is down by 11 points this year in the West, and down by 14 points among higher-income Americans, who might have a case of tax jitters given the president's declaration that he won't renew upper-income tax breaks next year.

Obama's job rating has closely matched that of Ronald Reagan, the last president to take office in the midst of a recession; the two have correlated at a remarkable 0.86 to date, and Reagan in April 1983 had 49 percent approval, 2 points from Obama's today. But mid-1983 was the point at which the economy began to recover and Reagan to rise; he exceeded 50 percent approval in May 1983 and held it steadily for the next three and a half years. With gas forecast to hit $5 this summer, an economy fueled-boost for Obama is hard to see.

Obama gets some aid, albeit limited, from another quarter, personal popularity. Fifty-two percent express a favorable opinion of the president overall. That's down 5 points from a year ago to a low for his presidency. Nonetheless, it's a majority, while his job approval is not; and equal numbers see him "strongly" favorably as strongly unfavorably, in contrast to his job approval.

While the power of incumbency is substantial, history is littered with presidents driven into the shoals by the storm of economic discontent. Today, with his intention to seek-election in hand, 28 percent of Americans say they'll definitely support Obama, and 25 percent will consider it, enough, combined, to put him over the top. But 45 percent say they definitely will not vote to reelect the president, enough to put him at serious risk, and to make the 2012 contest a hot one.

Methodology

This ABC News-Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone April 14-17, 2011, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y, with sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

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