Is Donald Trump's White House dream over before his campaign can even begin?
The casino mogul and reality-television star says he's nearing a decision about whether to plunge into the 2012 presidential race. But the most recent polls contain some ominous signs for "The Donald."
Trump's numbers are so problematic that winning the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency, might be out of reach, several independent pollsters and analysts say. "The numbers are very daunting," David Birdsell, dean of the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College in New York City, said.
Marist College Poll director Lee Miringoff said, "The incline is very steep. He has all kinds of problems that would take a lot of undoing if he is really serious about it."
Many pundits believe Trump's testing-of-the-waters is nothing more than an effort to burnish the Trump brand. He has toyed with running twice before, in 1988 and 1999, but quickly decided against a candidacy.
Trump, 64, has said his most recent flirtation is no marketing ploy. He already has made two high-profile pilgrimages to New Hampshire, which will hold the nation's first presidential primary, and he's scheduled to appear in another early presidential proving ground, Iowa, headlining the state Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner June 10.
"The polls I have seen demonstrate that Mr. Trump is a top GOP contender," Trump aide Michael Cohen said.
"If Mr. Trump elects to run ... I believe he would win the Republican primary and would be the only candidate that could defeat [President] Obama in 2012."
Trump has done little of the organizational work one might expect of a candidate sizing up a White House race.
In South Carolina, for example, one top Republican operative told ABC News, "Is he doing less than other potential candidates here? Yes. ...Others are having conversations with prospective staff. Is Trump doing that? No."
Trump began stoking speculation he might run with a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. After a whirlwind of publicity, Trump climbed into a tie for first in polls of Republican voters by CNN and Gallup in early April.
Since then, he has slumped.
Falling Poll Numbers
The most recent numbers by Gallup, a sampling of Republican voters from April 25 through May 8, found Trump supported by 16 percent of Republicans; tied for first place with former Arkansas Mike Huckabee, who has since announced he will not enter the race.
The poll also found that Trump is the most well-known of the potential GOP candidates, recognized by 98 percent of Republicans.
But the same survey found that the number of Republicans who dislike Trump has grown to 44 percent, higher than Sarah Palin's unfavorable rating (25 percent) or Newt Gingrich's (also 25 percent).
The combination of high negative ratings and high name recognition suggests it will be difficult for Trump to build support, pollsters say, because nearly every Republican already has formed an opinion about him.
"It's a very, very steep challenge," Birdsell of Baruch College said. "Not only do you have to create new perceptions, which is hard enough, but you have to change old perceptions, which tend to be entrenched. It is very, very difficult to create a new storyline."
By contrast, potential candidates such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, are relatively unknown, which "gives them an opportunity to craft an image that is positive," Gallup Poll editor-in-chief Frank Newport said.
The most recent Gallup poll also found Trump last among 13 potential Republican candidates in a new measure of voter enthusiasm called the "positive intensity score."
A 'Terrible Handicap for Trump'
The score is calculated by determining the percentage of voters who have a strongly favorable view of a candidate and subtracting the percentage of voters who have a strongly negative view of that candidate. Trump's rating fell to zero in the most recent Gallup survey.
By comparison, Huckabee topped the field with a score of 24. Palin and Gingrich had scores of 18 and 11, respectively.
"It's a terrible handicap for Trump," Newport said. "It's not a good position at all for someone trying to get his party's nomination."
Added Birdsell: "Trump's numbers might not be insurmountable if he didn't have all the problems he would encounter in a campaign; opponents pointing out the massive flip-flops on social issues, on tax issues, on a whole host of policy questions, on abortion."