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"Republican Candidate" Extends Lead vs. Obama to 47% to 39%

Margin marks first statistically significant lead among registered voters

by Jeffrey M. Jones I

PRINCETON, NJ -- Registered voters by a significant margin now say they are more likely to vote for the "Republican Party's candidate for president" than for President Barack Obama in the 2012 election, 47% to 39%. Preferences had been fairly evenly divided this year in this test of Obama's re-election prospects.

The latest results are based on a July 7-10 poll, and show that the Republican has an edge for the second consecutive month. Obama held a slight edge in May, when his approval rating increased after the death of Osama bin Laden. As his rating has come back down during the last two months, so has his standing on the presidential "generic ballot."

Gallup typically uses this question format when a president is seeking re-election but his likely opponent is unknown, as was the case in 1991-1992 and 2003-2004, when incumbents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, respectively, were seeking re-election.

The elder Bush held large leads over his generic Democratic opponent throughout 1991, but early 1992 preferences were more evenly divided and Bush eventually lost his re-election bid. The younger Bush also consistently maintained at least a small advantage over the Democrat throughout 2003, before winning re-election in a close contest in November 2004.

Thus, the results more than a year ahead of the election do not have a large degree of predictive ability, and underscore that things can change greatly in the final year or more before an election.

Both Bushes had higher job approval ratings in the year before their re-election contests than Obama does now, helping explain why Obama has fared less well on the generic ballot in the year prior to the election year. George H.W. Bush's approval rating in July 1991 averaged 71%, while George W. Bush's July 2003 average was 60%. Obama's latest weekly average is 46%.

Obama Trailing Among Independent Voters

Independent registered voters are currently more likely to vote for the Republican candidate (44%) than for Obama (34%), though one in five do not have an opinion. Republicans and Democrats show strong party loyalty in their vote choices, with Republicans showing somewhat stronger loyalty.

Independents' preferences are similar to what Gallup measured last month, while Republicans' support for the Republican candidate has increased slightly.


President Obama's re-election prospects do not look very favorable at this point -- if the election were held today, as measured by the generic presidential ballot. However, that result does not necessarily mean he is likely to be denied a second term in November 2012. At this point in 1991, George H.W. Bush looked like a sure bet to win a second term, but he was defeated.

One key factor in determining Obama's eventual electoral fate is whom the Republican Party nominates as its presidential candidate and the appeal that person has compared with Obama. Mitt Romney is the presumptive front-runner, but Americans have generally not held very positive opinions of him the last few years.

The state of the nation will also influence whether Obama is elected to a second term. Right now, Americans are especially dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country, and economic confidence is lagging.

However, the political environment can certainly change in the 16 months leading up to the election, something that occurred during the 1984 and 1996 election cycles (in the incumbent's favor) and 1992 cycle (in the opponent's favor) when incumbent presidents were seeking re-election.

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