WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama emerges from a bruising midterm election with uncertain prospects for the next one in 2012, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
Nearly half of his own base — 45 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents — want someone to challenge him for the Democratic nomination, according to the poll.
And, assuming he wins re-nomination, barely more than 1 in 3 voters, or 36 percent, said they'll definitely vote for him, while nearly half, 48 percent, said they'll definitely vote against him.
"There's some serious electoral jeopardy and his position is very tenuous," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which conducted the national post-election poll.
Obama's political weakness helps explain why so many Republicans are thinking of running for their party's nomination against him. That race is wide open, the McClatchy-Marist poll showed, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the early leader, but several others are competitive.
With politics about to pivot toward the presidential campaign, the poll underscored that Obama's standing will be a major factor.
He enters the second half of his term with his approval rating holding steady at 45 percent, 48 percent disapproving and 7 percent undecided.
"The good news for Obama was that, after the midterm, there wasn't any greater desertion," Miringoff said. "That's the best news. The bad news for him, people are still very tenuous about him."
His political problems start with his own base.
Among Democrats, 41 percent want someone to challenge Obama for the 2012 nomination, while 51 percent don't.
Moreover, a majority of Democratic-leaning independents, 56 percent, want him challenged, while 33 percent don't.
Among pro-Democratic voters who want him challenged: pluralities of women, voters younger than 45, and those without a college degree. Those who don't want him challenged include majorities of pro-Democratic men and college graduates, and a plurality of those 45 and older.
Presidents routinely win re-nomination. But even when a president beats back a primary challenge, it can weaken his candidacy in the general election.
President Jimmy Carter defeated Democratic challenger Edward Kennedy in 1980, but lost the general election to Republican Ronald Reagan. President George H.W. Bush bested Republican Pat Buchanan in 1992, but went on to lose the general election to Democrat Bill Clinton.
The poll also found that Obama's a centrist — within the Democratic Party.
Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 39 percent said they'd want any primary challenge to Obama to come from the left, and 40 percent said they'd want it to come from the right.
"He's in the murky middle," Miringoff said. "He's not energizing his base, nor is he convincing enough independents. Those numbers all reflect a real restlessness about him. This is not a pretty picture for him."
Among groups lining up against Obama early:
- Whites, by a margin of 57-27
- Men, 55-31
- Independents, 50-30
- Midwesterners, 51-35
- Southerners, 54-32
- Westerners, 47-41
Those planning definitely to vote for him rather than against him:
- Minorities, by a margin of 57-28
- Northeasterners, 39-36
- Liberals, 74-17
History suggests that these numbers are a snapshot of sentiment today, and not necessarily a prediction of the next election.
In the fall of 1994, President Bill Clinton suffered similar numbers, with only 38 percent saying he deserved re-election and 57 percent saying he didn't. Clinton went on to win a second term in 1996.
And in early 1991, shortly after his first midterm congressional election, President George H.W. Bush had great numbers, with 56 percent saying he deserved re-election and 38 percent saying he didn't. He went on to lose in 1992.
Obama would win, the poll suggests, if the election were held today, the Republican nominee were Sarah Palin and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also ran as an independent. Results: Obama 45 percent, Palin 31 percent, Bloomberg 15 percent, and 9 percent undecided.
On the Republican side, the first debate of candidates is scheduled for next spring at the Ronald Reagan library in California. The poll found a wide-open contest for the 2012 presidential nomination.
Among the early trends: Romney is stronger among Republican-leaning independents than among Republicans; Palin is the reverse.
Also noteworthy: Tea Party supporters are evenly divided, with 19 percent for Romney, 17 percent for Huckabee, 16 percent for Palin, 13 percent for Gingrich and 10 percent for Christie.
"A lot of people all have some support," Miringoff said. "It's wide open."
This survey of 1,020 adults was conducted Nov. 15-18. Adults 18 and older residing in the continental U.S. were interviewed by telephone. Telephone numbers were selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. To increase coverage, this land-line sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers. The two samples were then combined. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
There are 810 registered voters. The results from this subset have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. There are 371 Democrats and Democratic leaning independents and 337 Republicans and Republican leaning independents. The results for these subsets have margins of error of plus or minus 5 and plus or minus 5.5 percentage points, respectively. The error margin increases for cross-tabulations.
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