Barack Obama won 57% of the vote in Michigan in 2008 but his popularity in the state has fallen a great deal from that level of support over the last two and a half years. Nevertheless he leads his top four potential Republican opponents by healthy margins for reelection because even though he might not be that popular, he's still a lot more popular than they are.
47% of Michigan voters approve of the job he's doing to 45% who disapprove. His numbers with independents are solid, at a 47/42 approval spread. And even though his 4% approval number with Republicans is abysmal it's pretty much par for the course for him around the country. The main reason he's dipped below 50% in Michigan is unusually weak numbers with Democrats- only 78% approve of him to 15% who disapprove.
Obama's not likely to win Michigan by his blowout margin of 16 points in 2008 again but if the state voted today he would have an easier time taking it than either John Kerry in 2004 or Al Gore in 2000 did. Mitt Romney does the best of the Republicans against Obama, but still trails 48-41. Mike Huckabee keeps it in single digits as well at 50-41. After the two of them Obama does as well or better than he did last time around- a 16 point advantage over Newt Gingrich at 53-37 and 20 point leads over Sarah Palin at 55-35 and over wild card Scott Walker at 52-32.
How can Obama have such wide leads despite such tepid approval numbers? The current Republican crop of candidates just doesn't have much appeal to voters in the state. Despite his considerable Michigan ties only 37% of voters rate Romney favorably to 45% with an unfavorable opinion. He has more Republicans (21%) that dislike him than Democrats (15%) who do like him and you're not going to win as a GOP candidate in Michigan without more crossover support than that. Despite his weak numbers Romney still leads the field in popularity- Huckabee's favorability comes down at 36/45, followed by Walker at 22/37, Gingrich at 27/57, and Palin at 31/61. This is just the latest in a recent line of states where Gingrich's favorability numbers have come out as badly as Palin's, a signal of how weakly he's come out of the gate.
Obama could be vulnerable in Michigan for sure. But consider this- despite that weak 78% approval with Democrats, he gets 85-90% of the Democratic vote against each of these five Republicans. There are enough Democrats who don't like Obama that a Republican could get the support necessary across party lines to win the state- it's just far from clear that any of these Republicans could get the support necessary across party lines to win the state. Obama may not win the state by as much as last time but for now Michigan's looking like a second tier swing state.
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