12/16/2010 06:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama In Strong Shape Against Palin for 2012

A new poll released Thursday found President Obama with a big lead over Sarah Palin in the 2012 presidential contest, and with smaller leads over two other presidential contenders, confirming other recent polls showing Obama faring especially well against Palin.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Obama with a 55 percent to 33 percent lead over Palin, and a 47-percent to 40-percent lead over Romney. The survey also found Obama with a 47-percent to 27-percent lead over the relatively unknown South Dakota Senator John Thune. The poll was conducted Dec. 9-13 by Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff among 1,000 adults, and has a 3.1-percent margin of error.

Similarly, other recent surveys have shown Obama with large leads against Palin, with other candidates, including Romney and Mike Huckabee, performing more strongly. In all other recent polls pitting Obama against both Romney and Palin, Obama's margin over Palin has been larger than his margin over Romney. In fact, many polls have shown Romney very close to or ahead of Obama.

Public opinion on Palin leaves little room for her to improve only by swaying those who are undecided about her — she must actively change peoples' minds if she wishes to compete against Obama. According to the NBC/WSJ survey, 50 percent of respondents said they have a negative view of Palin while only 28 percent have a positive view. In the HuffPost Pollster trend estimate, Palin has only a 37-percent favorable rating, while 52 percent disapprove. This is an ominous sign for Palin not just because she is unpopular among those who express an opinion of her but because the vast majority of people do express an opinion - 78 percent of people in the NBC / Wall Street Journal poll and 89 percent in the HuffPost Pollster Trend estimate.

Romney, on the other hand, not only starts from a stronger position than Palin but may have more room to grow simply by becoming better known. In the new survey, respondents had a more positive view of Romney by a 28-percent to 20-percent margin (his HuffPost Pollster favorable rating is also positive, by a 34-percent to 31-percent margin). In the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, more than half (52 percent) said they had no opinion of Romney.

While the new poll did not ask about every potential candidate (notably leaving out Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich), respondents said they would prefer to vote for Obama over a generic Republican candidate, by a 42-percent to 39-percent margin. That may not be safe territory for Obama, however, in October of 2002 an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found 45 percent said they would vote for George W. Bush over 31 percent for a generic Democrat. Bush ultimately beat John Kerry by only a 51-percent to 48-percent margin.

Although more respondents said they disapproved of the job Obama is doing in office (48 percent) than approved (45 percent), the poll showed other good signs for Obama. Forty-eight percent of respondents to the poll said they had generally positive feelings about Obama while only 38 percent said they had negative views. In addition, 72 percent say they personally like Obama, even though almost half of those "disapprove of many policies."

Obama must also contend with pessimistic views of the country under his leadership. In the latest poll, 63 percent say the country is off on the wrong track, which is the highest percentage saying that in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll since Obama became president. The HuffPost Pollster trend estimate also shows a growing percentage who say the country is off on the wrong track. Not only that, but a Pew survey released Wednesday and conducted earlier in December found that most Americans actually think the US is losing ground on many key economic issues, including availability of good-paying jobs, cost of living, the budget deficit, and the financial condition of social security and medicare. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed in latest NBC/WSJ poll disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy.

Early polling is notoriously misleading, especially for lesser known challengers or when the electoral environment changes dramatically, so all of this should be taken with a grain of salt. Early leaders in primary polls often don't even gain their parties' nominations — just ask Presidents Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Some early polls in 1992 found George H.W. Bush leading Bill Clinton. As a result, all 2012 polls fielded this early should be interpreted cautiously, but the disparities between the performance of Palin and Romney are striking even early on in the process.