There are 3 swing states- Virginia, Missouri, and Wisconsin- that we polled around Thanksgiving and have now polled again in the last couple weeks. Barack Obama is in a stronger position across those states now than he was in late fall against all four of his top Republican opponents.
Against Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich Obama's gains have been modest. He led Huckabee by an average of 1 point in those states before, now he leads by an average of 3. He led Gingrich by an average of 6 points in those states before, now he leads by an average of 8.
The gains against Mitt Romney- and especially Sarah Palin- are more substantial. Obama led Romney by an average of just 1 point in those states in our first polls but now leads by an average of 5. And he led Palin by an average of 9 points on the first round but now has a 14 point edge.
Why is Obama doing better? It's actually not because he's become more popular. His average approval rating in the three states was 47% in late November/early December and now it's...still 47%.
It has more to do with the unpopularity of the Republicans. Huckabee's average favorability in the three states is 40/38, but Romney's is 32/44, Gingrich's is 29/52, and Palin's is 33/60. The top potential names in the GOP field remain exceptionally weak. We've been saying for months that there's time for someone more compelling on the GOP side to emerge, or that one of these folks could rehabilitate their image. But there's no sign of either of those things happening so far and the clock's ticking. Obama's greatest asset as he vies for reelection is the Republican candidate field.
Obama's clearly making at least some modest progress in the states that will determine next year's election. And this data is just more evidence that Palin is even weaker compared to the rest of the GOP field than she was last year.