A USA Today/Gallup poll of 12 swing states released Tuesday finds the Republican Party in a stronger position than in 2008, when Obama ran the table in each state contest. More than six in 10 Republicans say they are enthusiastic about voting for president next year, compared with fewer than half of Democrats.

(Side note: Last week, a Gallup national poll found a smaller, narrowing enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans. The poll used different wording on its questions than did the swing state survey.)

Obama also runs slightly behind his most likely Republican contenders in hypothetical 2012 match-ups. Among registered voters in swing states, Gallup shows Obama winning 45 percent to Newt Gingrich’s 48 percent (within the poll’s margin of error), and Obama trails Romney 43 to 48 percent. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain by 53 to 46 percent among voters in these key states.

It’s difficult to tell the magnitude of Obama’s challenge in swing states. The USA Today/Gallup poll tracks a fairly large shift in party identification in the 12 states surveyed. Reporter Susan Page writes that since 2008, “the number of voters who identify themselves as Democratic or Democratic-leaning in these key states has eroded, down by 4 percentage points, while the ranks of Republicans have climbed by 5 points.”

Party identification is far and away the strongest predictor of how people vote and is considered a fairly stable measure that changes only gradually over time. National Washington Post-ABC News polls do not see such a shift in party loyalties in swing states from 2008 to 2011.

Check out The Washington Post political team’s rundown of the history and landscape of swing states.