Sarah Palin in 2012: Could she really beat President Obama?

With 2010 midterms over, the big questions for Sarah Palin are will she run in 2012, and if she does, can she win? Her big challenge: lower her high unfavorable ratings.

Rob Stapleton/AP/File
In this Oct. 28 file photo, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin campaigns for Senate candidate Joe Miller (l.), in Anchorage, Alaska. Will Sarah Palin run for president in 2012?

Sarah Palin is really sort of, you know, talking about thinking of running for president in 2012. In the way that people who might be real candidates do.

A New York Times magazine cover piece out this week quotes her as saying that she is “having that discussion with my family.” In an interview with Barbara Walters set to air on ABC in early December, she says she’s “looking at the lay of the land” right now.

When Ms. Walters asks Gov. Palin if she could beat President Obama in 2012, she replies, “I believe so.”

Could she? You betcha. Anything can happen in US politics. That’s why they hold the elections. We have no idea what the nation’s political environment will be like in two years, and to predict flatly that a national figure can or cannot win is to engage in false punditry.

(Except for Donald Trump. We will go out on a limb here and say that Mr. Trump will not be applying his special flair for publicity to the policies of a Trump administration, ever, no matter what the new website says. Palin would beat him like a drum.)

Palin clearly could win the Republican nomination. That doesn’t mean she will – at this early stage, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney probably remains the GOP frontrunner. But 80 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of the former Alaska governor, according to a recent Gallup poll.

“Now that the 2010 midterms are over, the big question swirling around Palin is whether she will run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination,” writes Gallup analyst Lydia Saad. “Given her high name recognition and broad popularity among Republicans ... she is clearly in a strong position to seek it.”

But Palin has a problem similar to that faced by Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell: The general population is not made up only of Republicans. You can win the GOP’s heart and not attract enough independents and renegade Democrats to win the election.

Overall, 52 percent of US voters view Palin unfavorably, according to the Gallup survey. That’s Palin’s worst score on that measure to date. Breaking down the score, some 81 percent of Democrats, and 53 percent of independents, see her in a negative light.

This high negative rating “casts some doubt on her viability in the general election,” writes Ms. Saad.

True, some other politicians have higher negative ratings than does Palin. George W. Bush, for example, has an average unfavorable rating of 53 percent, according to numbers crunched by polling expert and New York Times blogger Nate Silver.

But Bush also has a fairly high 40 percent favorable rating. Palin’s is lower, at 36 percent, according to Silver.

The gap between Palin’s favorable and unfavorable ratings is thus fairly large. If she is to win the election she and her advisers have to figure out a way to reverse those numbers.

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