ABC News and Washington Post have a new poll out that the blogosphere is jumping on to trumpet the decline of Sarah Palin's favorability. Yeah, FHQ won't be jumping on that bandwagon, but we will discuss the 2012 Republican primary question that was nestled deep in the results. [For the record, the Palin numbers reflect opinion of her among folks of all partisan stripes. The Republican ones are the only ones that really matter at the moment.] Yes, the usual cast of characters are represented,* but I like the fact that the names of prospective GOP candidates whose names were volunteered (not on the list of candidates named) were included in the results as well. Among that group -- which included Charlie Crist, Bobby Jindal, John Thune and other -- Jindal did the best, pulling in about 2% among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Both Crist and Thune garnered less than a percentage point each.
Here are the results:
Thune: less than 1%
Crist: less than 0.5%
Margin of error: +/- 3.5 points
Sample: 1001 adults
approx. 292 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents
Conducted: July 15-18, 2009
First of all, this figure is getting a touch messy with the inclusion of Thune and Crist. Even still, the same pattern we've seen in these polls reemerges here: the Huckabee/Palin/Romney trio continue to be clustered relatively close together, outpacing all other possible candidates. [And it should be noted that that pattern surfaces with just 292 GOP/GOP-leaning respondents nationally. So take this poll with an extra grain of salt -- this question at least. The margin of error among that portion of the sample is likely pretty high.] It just so happens that the former Arkansas governor is getting another turn at the top.
I wouldn't read too much into Huckabee's showing (or anyone else for that matter), but I will take the opportunity to say that if last year's delegate runner-up for the GOP nomination is serious about a repeat bid in 2012, he is going to have to get a move on. From a polling perspective, he's fine, but financially he's quickly falling off the pace being set by his leading counterparts' political action committees. Both Romney's Free and Strong America PAC and Palin's SarahPAC are doing quite well in the first half of 2009. Huckabee, on the other hand, has yet to report any numbers for his Huck PAC, and that fact in conjunction with the news that the PAC is undergoing some restructuring, is a troubling start.
Again, this is all extremely early. As John McCain demonstrated during the 2008 cycle, campaign restructuring and dire financial straits aren't necessarily dealbreakers. However, 2012 won't be 2008 for the Republicans. They are facing an incumbent Democrat in the White House and will likely be looking for someone who has some gravitas among the elites within the party and an ability to raise funds and lots of them. Romney meets both those criteria the best at the moment. Palin lacks the internal party connections and Huckabee trails on both fronts.
The main question now is whether 2012 will be like 1996 or 2000 for the Republican Party. Will they have a fairly active primary campaign like in 1996 or will most of the party quickly coalesce around a candidate as in 2000? Part of the problem of assessing that question is that we have reached something of a crossroads on the divisive primaries/parties question. The pre-2008 thinking was that the quicker you line up behind someone (thus avoiding drawn-out divisiveness), the better your chances are in the general election. Post-2008, though, the thinking is slightly different. Can a drawn-out, yet not personally divisive nomination battle actually help a parties nominee from an organizational standpoint? Obama's narrow electoral college wins in Indiana and North Carolina are often cited as evidence that the primary campaign organization helped in the general election.
My (two and a half years in advance) guess is that the GOP may pay some lip service to the organizational idea, but will ultimately make a quick decision on the 2012 nomination. And I should note that I've been talking about this as if the party has complete control over this. They don't. Conditions have a large say in the matter. Democratic primary and caucus voters were evenly divided in 2008, but Republican voters may not follow suit in 2012. That potential is there (Palin grassroots vs. Romney establishment, for example), but, as I said, I think it is more likely that a consensus forms around one candidate. If the GOP elite signal in a way similar to 2000 with Bush, that they are solidly behind one candidate, then it will be difficult for anyone to disrupt the inevitability story.
All that from a poll of 292 Republicans and independents leaning Republican? Yeah, I know.
*The list of candidates included Haley Barbour, Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney.
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