BY TOM HESTER SR.
While Newt Gingrich is the current favorite for the Republican presidential nomination and Gov. Chris Christie has put his popularity behind Mitt Romney, President Obama still outpaces every potential Republican challenger for president in a national survey of registered voters conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.
“Any Republican challenger will have to unite a fractured base,” Prof. Peter Woolley, the poll’s director, said Wednesday. “That’s a problem the incumbent president doesn’t have right now.”
Obama has an approval rating of 45 percent and a disapproval rating of 46 percent but in head to head trials, he bests former Massachusetts Gov. Romney by 46 to 42 percent and former House speaker Gingrich by 48 to 42 percent.
70 percent of voters told pollsters the country is “on the wrong track.”
Other hopeful Republican nominees trail Obama badly. The president beats Texas Gov. Rick Perry by 53 to 35 percent and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann by 57 percent to 30 percent. The survey settled largely along party lines, with independents making the margins larger or smaller.
One thing voters of both political parties can agree on, though not the candidates, is the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq scheduled to be completed by the end of the month: 71 percent of all voters approve, with Democrats approving 89 to 5 percent, independents by 71 to 15 percent, Republicans by 48 to 31 percent, and 20 percent unsure or mixed.
“The election of 2012 will contrast greatly to that of 2008 and 2004 because Iraq will be a side issue, if not completely ignored,” Woolley said. “While foreign policy and economic policy are barely distinguishable these days, voters still draw a hard, straight line between the two.”
Gingrich takes 36 percent of the Republican preferences, a 13-point advantage over Romney’s 23 percent. All the other major candidates are far behind in a second tier, with Herman Cain’s collapsing candidacy garnering just 8 percent and Perry with 6 percent.
“Every candidate but perhaps Romney has seriously damaged his or her own campaign at least once so far,” Woolley said. “At this point, it’s a campaign for survival.” Romney and Gingrich also dominate the field as “second choices.” If they can’t have their first pick, 22 percent of voters prefer to have Romney and another 22 percent prefer Gingrich.
Heading up the least favorite list, i.e. “which candidate… is your least favorite,” are Cain and libertarian Ron Paul, each with 17 percent. Bachman and Perry each get 13 percent, while Jon Huntsman breaks into this wrong second tier with a double-digit performance of 10 percent, suggesting all have limitations beyond their anemic support.
FDU pollsters questioned 855 registered voters nationwide via telephone from Nov. 29 through Monday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.