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Poll offers hope both for Obama and Republicans

November 14, 2011|By Michael Muskal
  • Republican presidential candidates Herman Cain, left, and Mitt Romney, during a foreign policy debate in Spartanburg, S.C.
Republican presidential candidates Herman Cain, left, and Mitt Romney,… (Richard Shiro / Associated…)

President Obama continues to rank low in approval ratings, but when asked to choose between presidential candidates, likely voters are more likely to choose the president over leading Republican challengers, according to the Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll released on Monday.

The poll, based on interviews from Nov. 6 to Nov. 9 with 1,000 people who said they are likely to vote, offers something for both parties with the countdown to 2012 presidential vote less than a year off. Republicans tie Obama at 43% in a generic face-off, but Democrats can be cheered that when a real face is put up against the president, Obama wins.

According to the poll, Obama is running ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by six percentage points and ahead of businessman Herman Cain by nine  percentage points. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

But politicians of all stripes can take scant comfort from the poll’s findings that the electorate is increasingly unhappy with how things are playing out particularly with  the  economy. About 75% said the nation is on the wrong track, up from 59% in May and a record in the two-decade history of the poll. Unhappiness at that level makes even usually safe incumbents weaker.

It also outlines what will be the key theme of the campaign on all levels: that those in power have failed to deal with the pressing issues and should be held accountable. For Republicans, that means continually striking at the vein of unease, hoping to find gold against Obama. According to the poll, 44% approve of the job the president is doing,  but 51% said they disapprove of Obama’s performance.  In a sample of 19 swing states, Obama’s job approval falls to 40% and his disapproval rating rises to 57%.

On the plus side for the president, Obama does better when he runs head-to-head against a real person than when he runs against a generic Republican. Obama even beats Romney 47% to 34% among independents.

The Obama camp has recently positioned the campaign along the lines that Harry Truman used in his successful upset run in 1948, when the feisty president railed against Congress and Republicans. Obama has tried to match that approach, but the poll showed that voters are increasingly unhappy with how the president is shaping his relationship with Congress, which gets little respect. Congress is down to an institutional approval rating in this poll of 11%, with 83% disapproving.

About 38%, approve of Obama’s relationship with Congress and 57% disapprove, a steady growth even as Obama has toured the country berating Republicans and saying Congress has failed to deal with the national woes.

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