Barack Obama's still leading all of his top potential opponents for 2012, but with his approval rating nationally below 50% for the first time his margins against a couple of them have dropped below what he won against John McCain last fall.
For the eighth month in a row Mike Huckabee comes the closest to Obama of the leading GOP hopefuls but for the first time he has company in Mitt Romney. Both of them trail the President by five points, Huckabee by a 49-44 margin and Romney by a 48-43 spread.
The key to Huckabee's strong performance is that he does the best of the Republican candidates we tested with the party base, taking 87% of the GOP vote in a head to head with Obama. There is some bad news for the former Arkansas Governor in the poll too though, as his favorability has moved slightly into negative territory by a 37/36 margin. This is the first time Huckabee has been in the red on that front.
Romney's strength in his best performance yet against Obama is with independents. While the other GOP candidates trail by 7-9 points with them Romney is at just a 44-42 deficit. His favorability numbers in the poll are less than impressive though, with 30% of voters holding a positive opinion of him to 39% negative. That has a lot to do with fewer than 50% of Republican voters saying they have favorable opinion of him.
Sarah Palin may be getting at least a slight book bounce, as her favorability numbers are the best they've been since August and her margin relative to Obama is the smallest it's been since July. Neither of those things are necessarily saying much though- 49% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of her to 40% favorable and she continues to trail the President 51-43.
New to the poll this month is Ron Paul. He is more well liked by Democrats (18%) than his fellow Republicans who sport 13-14% favorability numbers with the opposing party. At the same time he is easily the least popular within his own party, as 25% of Republican voters have an unfavorable opinion of him to 11-19% for the other three. He trails Obama 46-38.
What does this all mean for Obama? He is in a slightly weaker position than he was a year ago, with his 49% approval rating running four points below his share of the popular vote last year and his leads over Huckabee and Romney a bit smaller than his winning margin over John McCain. At the same time he's already pretty much bottomed out with GOP voters so as is often the case in politics his long term prognosis is going to depend on keeping the independents he won over last fall and ensuring that he continues to fire up the Democratic base the way he did in 2008.
Full results here