President Barack Obama runs ahead of an unnamed Republican opponent by 47 to 37 percent among registered voters in a new poll from the Pew Research Center. The poll also finds former governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee as the most likely candidates to fill that Republican slot.
Before rolling out the data too far, a few caveats. The election is more than a year and a half away. And without a named opponent in a horserace question, the true electoral choice is obscured -- hence a large 16 percent report being undecided.
But some clues emerge. Obama’s advantage is similar to former president George W. Bush’s and better than former president Bill Clinton’s at comparable times in their presidency. In April 2003, Bush ran ahead of a generic Democrat by 48 to 35 percent. In March 1995 Clinton was in a more tenuous position at 29 percent to 33 percent for a generic Republican, with 20 percent preferring an independent candidate.
GENERAL ELECTION: Parsing the presidential choice finds Obama in good shape in many of the key groups he won in 2008. But he does look comparatively weaker among young voters. In the 2008 election, McCain won 32 percent of voters under age 30. That compares closely with the 34 percent of young voters who pick a generic Republican now. But there has been slippage for Obama in this group, going from 66 percent support in the 2008 exit polls to 53 percent in this poll among young voters.
Among independent voters, perhaps the most closely watched swing group, the race is relatively narrow at 40 for Obama to 34 percent for a generic Republican. More than a quarter of independents, 26 percent, are undecided. The six-point margin for Obama among independents is similar to his performance against John McCain in the 2008 election, in which he won independents by 52 to 44 percent, according to exit polls.
In April 2003 independents went 40 to 34 percent for Bush over a generic Democrat, exactly matching the vote choice for Obama now. But in 1995, independents split 23 to 16 percent for Clinton and a generic Republican with a 37 percent plurality preferring an unnamed independent candidate.
GOP PRIMARY: As we’ve seen in other polls, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee rise to top of a crowded Republican primary field winning 21 and 20 percent of the vote among Republican and GOP-leaning independent voters. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former House speaker Newt Gingrich comprise the second tier at 13 and 11 percent support, followed by a host of other candidates in the single digits.
Romney and Huckabee’s bases of support are distinct in a few areas. Romney appeals more clearly to upper income and older Republicans while Huckabee appeals to white evangelical Protestants and Republicans who attend church at least weekly.