In 2000 and 2004 Wisconsin was one of the most closely contested battleground states in the country. In 2008 Barack Obama won it in a blowout. Right now it looks like the 2012 race in the state will shape up more like 2008 than 2000 or 2004.
Obama leads Mitt Romney by 12 points at 51-39, Newt Gingrich by 18 points at 53-35, and Sarah Palin by 19 points at 55-36 in the state.
Part of Obama's strength is that he is decently popular in the state. 52% of voters approve of the job he's doing to 44% who disapprove. Although his reviews are almost completely polarized along party lines, he does have slightly more Republicans (11%) who approve of the job he's doing than Democrats (8%) who disapprove. That's usually the other way around. He's also on positive ground with independents at 50/43.
Obama does appear to have received a bit of a bounce in Wisconsin in recent weeks. When we polled the state in February his approval was a net +4 spread at 49/45, so he's improved by 4 points on that front. And while his lead over Palin is unchanged from then, his advantage over Gingrich has improved by 6 points and against Romney it's up by 2.
Obama's approval numbers in the state are solid but the size of his leads over the various Republican candidates may have more to do with their unpopularity than his appeal. Romney's favorability spread in the state is 29/49 and that makes him the comparatively popular one. Palin's at 32/63 and Gingrich at 15/67. Gingrich's numbers are particularly noteworthy because even among Republicans just 29% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to 45% with a negative one. That mirrors numbers we released this morning showing a plurality of GOP voters nationally have an unfavorable opinion of him as well.
Gingrich's numbers may be particularly bad in Wisconsin because of his recent spat with Paul Ryan who's an absolutely adored figure with GOP voters in the state. 77% have a favorable opinion of him to 12% with a negative one. Ryan would actually poll the strongest of the Republicans we tested against Obama in the state too, trailing the President by a 50-43 margin, 5 points closer than Romney.
Despite his comparatively decent numbers against Obama, Ryan's image in the state has gone in the wrong direction as his national profile has increased over the course of the last six months. When we polled on Ryan in December his favorability was a positive 38/30 spread. Now it's a negative 41/46 spread. That's a 13 point net shift in the wrong direction for him over the last five months. He's up up 10 points with Republicans from +55 (61/6) to +65 (77/12). But that's more than outweighed by his being down 34 points with Democrats from -35 (16/51) to -69 (10/79). And he's down 9 points with independents from +10 (39/29) to +1 (43/42). Ryan's prudent not to run for the state's open seat given his decline in popularity on the home front.
Plenty of time for it to change, but Wisconsin's looking like a solid Obama state in 2012 for now.
Full results here