We were all treated to a double helping of 2012 general election presidential polling today (...if you like that sort of thing.). Public Policy Polling's numbers were expected, but Rasmussen had some numbers on prospective match ups between Obama and Palin/Romney as well. One of my complaints last week about the 2012 trial heats was that only PPP had conducted any thus far in the admittedly (very) early stages of 2012 election cycle. If you are going to conduct polls this early, it is nice to know that you have more than one polling outfit to lean on. Enter Rasmussen, who polled Romney and Palin against Obama in addition to PPP's now fourth iteration of their Gingrich/Huckabee/Palin/Romney versus Obama survey.
The one thing that I want to note before I jump into looking at the results of these individual match ups is that the sample sizes between these two polls are vastly different and that may say something about the reliability of each organization's numbers. For a national poll the standard sample size is something at or around 1000 respondents. Rasmussen had exactly that, but Public Policy Polling had but 577 respondents. As I mentioned last week in my piece on the 2012 polls, PPP has come under that 1000 respondent mark three of the four times they've done these 2012 surveys (or four out of five counting the Obama/Palin survey that initiated the series back in March). Are these reliable numbers? Other than the May poll that had 1000 respondents, there has been a general closing of the gap between Obama and his would-be challengers since April. That tracks well with the president's overall decline in approval and favorability over that period of time.
But are the results reliable? Seemingly, but certainly not as reliable as the more robust sample from Rasmussen. Here's an example: GOP12 points out that PPP breaks favorability and the hypothetical trial heats by region. Interesting, right? Yeah, until you look more closely. Obama sweeps all four Republicans in the South! What!?! The president also wins across the board in the northeast (not surprisingly), loses to Gingrich and Huckabee in the midwest and is vulnerable in the west against Palin and Romney. Normally, a lightbulb would go off for me there. "Hey, why don't we try and project that onto the electoral college, just for fun (I still might do this. Ha!)?" But those numbers in the South give me pause.* As I lamented on Friday, it would have been nice to have seen what the non-May numbers would have looked like in those PPP polls had each had the standard sample size. At the end of the day, a 577 respondent sample would be solid for a poll here in Georgia, but on the national level, not so much.
Against Newt Gingrich in the PPP survey, Obama actually goes up. Well, Gingrich does, too. The results here are just a reiteration of the status quo from a month ago. Rasmussen didn't poll Gingrich in the trial heats which make sense considering he lagged behind the leading troika of prospective GOP candidates, but that makes the exclusion of...
...Mike Huckabee in the Rasmussen poll all the more surprising. Again, Huckabee, Palin and Romney have all traded off handling the top honors for "best against but still trailing Obama" in all of these polls thus far. And they have all clustered together and well above all others save Gingrich for the duration of these surveys as well. Nonetheless, Huckabee was not included in the Rasmussen questions. The former Arkansas governor was, however, a part of the PPP survey. And whereas both Gingrich (41 to 42) and Obama (49 to 50) rose this month over last, Huckabee (43 to 42) and the president (50 to 48) both saw declining shares of support in the July poll. I don't find that that is anything to write home about, though. Again, like the Gingrich numbers, these just serve to validate the status quo in this match up.
As we move into the Palin and Romney results, we can begin to compare and contrast how the Rasmussen and PPP polls stack up against one another. Both polls show the soon-to-be-former Alaska governor rising as compared to last month's PPP survey, but the July PPP poll shows greater improvement than does Rasmussen. Regardless, the improvement continues to indicate that Palin's July 3 resignation announcement has not necessarily hurt her in terms of polling (2012 or otherwise). Given the question marks surrounding the PPP poll outlined above, if we take the Rasmussen results, we see that Obama is under the 50% mark against Palin for the first time in any of these trial heats. That's a far cry from the 55/35 split from PPP favoring the president in March. It just goes to show you how quickly the political outlook can change. And yes, that should serve as a not of caution concerning these polls. It is still very (VERY) early and much can change between now and next year's midterms, much less 2012.
The result that will catch everyone's eyes from these two polls is the Obama/Romney split in the Rasmussen poll. The 45-45 tie is a remarkable sign of the current position the president is in: precarious given the typical, early term highs in January and Februrary. Still, this is a widely divergent result compared to the nine point advantage Obama has in the PPP survey (49-40 -- no decided change from last month). Now, I've certainly already called into question the sample size of PPP's poll, but without the Premium Service (I'm cheap, not to mention poor.) from Rasmussen, I don't know that it is fair to compare these two polls. Upon seeing the results, I'd wager that the Rasmussen poll has a few more Republicans in its sample than does the PPP poll (42% Democratic, 35% Republican and 23% Independent/Other). Again, these polls are all verging on the premature, but the real take home message from them is one you can easily glean from Obama's approval and/or favorability numbers: The president's support is dwindling. Obama is still fine among Democrats, but has virtually no crossover appeal and is seeing his advantage among independents evaporate like a small rain burst on a late July afternoon in Georgia. There's still something there, but it is certainly less than what it once was.
Let's wrap this up on a lighter note:
Just for fun, let's look at the three-way general election race with Palin as an independent. If John Sides hates 2012 polls, then I'm sure he'll just love a poll that takes two hypothetical steps to even get to. First of all, Palin has to lose the GOP nomination (one she hasn't even announced she's running in) to Romney and then has to decide to run as an independent. That's almost hypothetical enough in 2009 to make me queasy. And that's saying something! Understandably, this type of three person race negatively affects the Republican Party's fortunes in a prospective 2012 general election. Obama remains stationary at a shade under 50% (Well, maybe more than a shade for an incumbent president.) while Palin pulls enough away from Romney to give the president a comfortable enough edge (11 points) over the former Massachusetts governor. Mitt's already been tweeting about the Rasmussen results, but here's betting he won't be trumpeting these three-way results. Well, he won't until he asks Sarah Palin to be his running mate and has an affirmative answer anyway.
I may have given Rasmussen another idea for a poll question there.
*For the record and given the crosstabs, there would have been 196 respondents from the South, 138 from the northeast, 150 from the midwest and 92 from the west. I honestly don't know if those numbers are going to yield representative results for those regions much less the nation in the aggregate.
PPP Poll: 2012 Trial Heats (Obama v. Gingrich/Huckabee/Palin/Romney)
Rasmussen Poll: 2012 Trial Heats (Obama vs. Romney & Palin
Presidential Primary Reform Week: National Primary with a Twist