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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Gallup General Election Poll: Everybody’s Even!

With all due deference to the valuable truism that polls far in advance of elections must be taken with a shaker of salt, Gallup’s new presidential general election trial heat is fascinating in terms of what it says about the current lay of the land.
From one perspective, it’s a bit surprising that Barack Obama, who just hit an all-time low (38%) in Gallup’s own daily tracking poll of presidential job approval, is still running essentially even with the Republican candidate usually considered most “electable,” Mitt Romney (Obama actually trails Romney 48-46 among RVs, but that’s a functional tie).
From another perspective, it’s even more surprising that Romney’s not really doing much better than his GOP rivals. Rick Perry’s even with Obama at 47-47. Okay, the Texan is the shiny new penny of the presidential field, and most voters haven’t had the opportunity to read Fed Up and discover what Perry really thinks–or at least authorized his ghostwriter to say he thinks nine months ago–about Social Security, federal aid to schools, and a variety of other topics. In a separate Gallup survey of self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning indies, Perry is now trouncing Romney and generally walking tall.
But it’s less predictable that Ron Paul–Ron Paul!–is running just two points behind Obama (47-45), with Michele Bachmann–Michele Bachmann!–just four points behind the incumbent (48-44).
There are a couple of major takeaways from this survey beyond the fact that most Americans don’t know a whole lot about the specific views of very zany people like Paul and Bachmann, and dodgy demagogues like Perry. For Team Obama, it’s another indicator, if one is needed, that a campaign focusing heavily on comparisons with the policy course offered by the eventual Republican nominee is essential. (Presidential policies that reinforce this contrast or even, if possible, improve the economic conditions making his re-election so difficult in the first place, would obviously be even better, but that’s a subject for another day).
For Republicans, and particularly for the conservative activists who dominate the early states, this sort of finding will create a powerful temptation to believe they can do any damn thing they please in the nominating process, because Election ’12 will invariably become a referendum on the incumbent that will lift their favorite, whoever it is, to the White House. In other words, if they persist, everybody’s-even poll findings could eliminate “electability” as a major factor in the GOP nominating contest.
For Democrats, that’s scary, if you do think a Republican is destined to win, or maybe promising, if you think persuadable voters will pay at least some attention to the actual views of the candidate facing Obama in November of 2012.

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