The dilemma for GOP primary voters, per our new NBC/WSJ poll: electability vs. ideology… 2011 was “a year to forget”… Obama’s senior problem… The president’s Fort Bragg speech… And launching NBCPolitics.com.
*** Electability vs. ideology: As the Republican horserace has turned into a two-man contest, Republican primary voters face this dilemma, according to our new NBC/WSJ poll: Newt Gingrich has electability issues, while Mitt Romney isn’t viewed as a true conservative. It’s electability vs. ideology. Let’s start with the GOP horserace, which Gingrich leads Romney by 17 points, 40%-23% -- the largest lead so far in the Republican contest. They’re followed by Ron Paul at 9%, Michele Bachmann at 8%, and Rick Perry at 6%. Reduced to a three-person race, Gingrich gets 53%, Romney 31%, and Paul 13%. And in a two-man contest, it’s Gingrich 59% and Romney 36%. What’s helping Gingrich and hurting Romney? Look no further than ideology: 57% of GOP primary voters view Gingrich as a conservative, 28% see him as a moderate, and 10% believe he’s a liberal. But those numbers are flipped for Romney: 53% moderate, 29% conservative, and 11 percent liberal. Bottom line: That’s not a good place for Romney to be when a whopping 70% of GOP primary voters describe themselves as conservative.
The two Republican presidential frontrunners have one thing in common: they both have electability problems. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
*** Romney matches up better against Obama: But while Gingrich runs ahead of the Republican pack, he doesn’t fare as well as a general-election candidate. President Obama leads the former House speaker by 11 points among registered voters, 51%-40%. But Obama’s lead narrows to just two points against Romney, 47%-45%. (A generic Republican, by the way, leads Obama by two, 45%-43%.) What’s going on here? Just look at the two men’s favorability ratings. Gingrich enjoys strong numbers among Republicans (46% positive, 21% negative), conservatives (42% positive, 23% negative), and Tea Party supporters (54% positive, 16% negative). In fact, they are higher than Romney’s numbers among these same three key GOP groups. But Gingrich struggles with important general-election voting blocs – more than Romney does: women (20% positive, 38% negative), independents (16% positive, 40% negative), and suburban residents (25% positive, 41% negative). What’s more, 50% of registered voters say they would NOT vote for Gingrich in a general, compared with 45% who said that about Obama and 44% who said that about Romney.
*** “A year to forget”: Besides the 2012 numbers, the other headline from the NBC/WSJ poll is the public’s continued dissatisfaction with the state of the country and the state of American politics. Just 22% believe the nation is headed in the right direction (though that’s a three-point increase since November). Moreover, 42% label the current Congress’ performance as “one of the worst” ever -- the highest number on this question, which dates back to 1990. And nearly half of respondents (49%) say that 2011 has been a below-average year, while an additional 27% see it as one of the worst years. “2011 was a year to forget,” NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) tells First Read. “There are no smiles, there is no sense that the world is coming together.” But there are some tiny rays of optimism in the poll. For instance, 30% believe the economy will get better in the next year, a five-point increase from last month and the highest percentage on this question since April.
*** Obama’s senior problem: In the NBC/WSJ poll, Obama’s job-approval rating stands at 46% (a two-point increase from last month), and approval of his economic handling stands at 39% (which is down one point). But he has a particular problem with seniors: 57% of them disapprove of the president’s job. What’s more, in a head-to-head contest, Romney leads Obama among seniors by 17 points, 54%-37%. But do note that lead almost evaporates to three points (48%-45%) when Gingrich is matched up against Obama. In fact, Obama's two biggest political demographic problems are seniors and independents, and Gingrich solves both, according to this survey. Ready for this: Gingrich nabs just 28% of indies in a matchup with Obama… Over 20% of indies are undecided… stunning
*** The president’s Fort Bragg speech: At 11:55 am ET, President Obama -- accompanied by the first lady -- delivers a speech from Fort Bragg, NC on the end of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. USA Today: “Obama's visit to Fort Bragg is being touted by the White House as an opportunity for the president to welcome home the more than 1 million U.S. troops who have served in Iraq over the nearly 9-year-old war. It's also a chance for him to remind voters that he followed through on his 2008 campaign pledge to end the war.” Our NBC/WSJ poll shows that bringing home the U.S. troops from Iraq ranks as Obama’s No. 2 accomplishment behind killing Osama bin Laden. His top shortcoming, per the poll: his inability to improve the economic conditions in the country. By the way, Romney has penned an open letter to Obama, which will run in the Fayetteville (NC) Observer that criticizes the president not on Iraq but on his economic record.
*** On the 2012 trail: Perry begins his bus tour through Iowa… Santorum also spends his day stumping throughout the Hawkeye State… Romney hits fundraisers in New York… And Paul campaigns in New Hampshire.
*** Launching NBCPolitics: Lastly, NBC News and msnbc.com today are announcing the official launch of NBCPolitics.com, the digital hub for all of the network’s political reporting, including First Read. Be sure to check it out. And also check out Nathan Gonzales’ new site, PoliticsinSterero.com.
Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 20 days
Countdown to New Hampshire primary: 27 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 38 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 48 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 52 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 83 days
Countdown to Election Day: 330 days
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