WASHINGTON — Look out President Barack Obama, even Sarah Palin's gaining on you.
A new McClatchy-Marist poll finds that Obama looks increasingly vulnerable in next year's election, with a majority of voters believing he'll lose to any Republican, a solid plurality saying they'll definitely vote against him and most potential Republican challengers gaining on him.
Even in potential matchups where he leads, Obama in most cases has lost ground to the Republican.
The biggest gain came for Palin, the former Alaska governor who hasn't yet announced whether she'll jump into the fast-changing race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
After trailing Obama by more than 20 percentage points in polls all year, the new national survey, taken Sept. 13-14, found her trailing the president by just 5 points, 49-44 percent. The key reason: She now leads Obama among independents, a sharp turnaround.
Overall, the gains among Republicans "speak to Obama's decline among independents generally, and how the middle is not his right now," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the national survey.
"This will require him to find ways to either win back the middle or energize his base in ways that hasn't happened so far" Miringoff said
By a margin of 49 percent to 36 percent, voters said they definitely plan to vote against Obama, according to the poll. Independents by 53 percent to 28 percent said they definitely plan to vote against him.
With that sentiment permeating the electorate a little more than a year before the general election, most Americans think Obama won't win a second term.
By 52 percent to 38 percent, voters think he'll lose to the Republican nominee, whoever that is. Even among Democrats, 31 percent think the Republican nominee will win.
The poll comes as the Republican candidates head to Orlando, Fla., for another debate on Thursday night, their second in the battleground state in 10 days.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas continues to lead the field of announced candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, supported by 30 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. He was followed by former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts with 22 percent and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota with 12 percent.
Others trailed in single digits: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had 7 percent; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had 6 percent; business executive Herman Cain had 5 percent, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania had 2 percent, and former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah had 1 percent.
Two potential candidates — Palin and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — would trail Perry but jump into the top tier along with Romney and Bachmann, the survey found.
The field lines up differently, though, when matched against Obama.
While most of the Republicans have gained on Obama, he still leads all of the announced candidates.
"His saving grace right now has to do with the fact that the GOP field has not yet demonstrated the appeal to capitalize on his weaknesses," said Miringoff.
Giuliani would do the best against the president, leading Obama by 49 percent to 42 percent. He trailed by 5 points in an August poll, and by 7 in June.
Obama is neck and neck with Romney, leading by 46-44. Obama had led by 5 points in August, 4 points in June, and 1 point in April. Romney now leads among independents, 44 percent to 40 percent.
Obama leads Perry by 50 percent to 41 percent. They split independents 43-43. Obama had led Perry by 19 points in August, as Perry was joining the campaign.
Obama leads Bachmann 53 percent to 40 percent. He had led her by 17 points in August, by 12 points in June.
Obama leads Palin by 49 percent to 44 percent. He led in August by 21 points, in June by 26 points, and in April by 22 points.
Despite the suggestion that Giuliani would be the party's strongest general election candidate, and that Palin would be much stronger than earlier believed, Republicans do not want them to get into the race.
By 72 percent to 24 percent, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents do not want Palin to run for president in 2012. Even among tea party supporters — a group that likes Palin — 68 percent do not want her to run.
And by 58 percent to 32 percent, Republican voters do not want Giuliani, who ran and lost in 2008, to run in 2012.
This survey of 1,042 adults was conducted on Sept. 13-14. Adults 18 and older residing in the continental United States 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. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. There are 825 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. There are 317 Republicans and Republican leaning independents. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 5.5 percentage points. The error margin increases for cross-tabulations.
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