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.
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.
Indeed, despite advancing in GOP primary preference, 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. Fewer than half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 47 percent, describe themselves as satisfied with their choice of candidates for the nomination, barely changed from 43 percent in April despite the official entrances of Romney, Gingrich and Pawlenty; exits of Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump and Mitch Daniels; and revving-up sounds from Palin, Bachmann and Huntsman. That's far lower than the level of satisfaction, 68 percent, in June '07.
FRUSTRATED? -- The risks to Obama are underscored by the ABC News Frustration Index: It stands at 68, essentially what it was going into the 2010 midterm elections. Based on ratings of the economy, presidential approval, anti-incumbency and dissatisfaction with the federal government, it correlates strongly with House re-election rates and presidential prospects alike.
The index peaked at 80 in 2008, when the Democrats regained the White House, and at 73 in summer 1992, shortly before the first President Bush lost re-election; it was 67 last fall, when the GOP regained the House and scored major inroads in the Senate. The Frustration Index today is a relatively mild 50 among Democrats, but a boiling 80 among Republicans -- and close to it, 72, among independents, the quintessential swing voters in national elections.