Who can beat Obama?
Last week, we took note of a piece of data from a CNN survey that showed 42 percent of Republicans said Texas Gov. Rick Perry had a better chance of beating President Obama next fall while 26 percent said former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was the stronger of the two choices.
The conclusion? That Romney’s electability argument — the core of his attack against Perry now and going forward — didn’t have the numbers to back it up.
Or maybe we were just looking at the wrong numbers.
In a new USA Today/Gallup national poll, Romney takes 49 percent to President Obama’s 47 percent while the incumbent took 50 percent to Perry’s 45 percent in a head to head matchup.
Those numbers are all the more interesting given the fact that Perry leads Romney by seven points in a primary matchup in that same poll.
“Playing the electability card might help Romney recover, particularly if he continues to outperform Perry in matchups against Obama in the coming months even as Perry becomes better known,” writes Gallup’s Lydia Saad.
Obviously, as Saad notes, it’s (still) early in the race and Perry remains less well known nationally than Romney. And, given that the poll carried a margin of error of four points, neither Romney nor Perry led or trailed Obama by a statistically significant margin.
That said, the USA Today/Gallup numbers do raise an interesting question about what the best way of measuring electability truly is.
Is it the more straight “who has a better chance of winning” question asked by CNN or is it the actual head-to-head general election pairing?
The knock against the first method is that a) the sample is comprised of only Republicans who, presumably, will vote for whoever the party nominates and b) it is essentially a stand-in for the overall primary ballot since whoever is the favorite in the GOP primary is generally viewed as the strongest potential candidate.
The general election heads to heads have the advantage of including independent voters but the disadvantage of attempting to predict a race months in advance that will be altered by the Republican primary process.
If you are a Perry supporter, you’re likely to insist the straight electability question is more important. If you back Romney, you’ll argue the general election matchups are the best measure of who is the stronger nominee.
We’ll be keeping an eye on both. As should you.