The last time a Democratic presidential candidate carried either South Dakota or Nebraska in a general election was the same year that the Beatles released their debut U.S. album. Yet if the Republican Party nominates Sarah Palin for president, two PPP polls indicate that President Obama would have a strong chance of bringing both states into the Democratic column for the first time in a half century.
In Nebraska, PPP found Palin leading Obama by just one point, 45% to 44%. Compare that to last cycle, when John McCain won the state by 15 points — though, since Nebraska awards some electors to the winner of each congressional district, Obama did take one electoral vote for winning Omaha’s district. In 2004, George Bush trounced John Kerry by 33 points there.
In South Dakota, the bad omen for a Palin presidential bid is even starker. There, PPP found her outright trailing Obama by eight points, 48% to 40%.
Palin by far fared the worst of the GOP frontrunners in both polls — a growing trend in just about every survey of the 2012 race.
In the South Dakota poll, Obama did manage to edge out Newt Gingrich as well as Palin, but only by two points, 44% to 42%. He still trailed Mitt Romney (46% to 40%) and Mike Huckabee (47% to 51%.) In Nebraska, Romney and Huckabee held comfortable leads over Obama of 13 and 12 points respectively, while Gingrich led the President by eight points.
No Democrat has won either state since incumbent President Lyndon Jonson destroyed ultra-conservative Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election by a roughly 60% to 40% margin. That year, Goldwater carried only his native Arizona and five deep South states.
In releasing the South Dakota polling data, PPP’s Tom Jensen wrote:
What those numbers indicate is that [Palin] would only really be safe in states that Republicans won by at least 20 points in 2008. And there weren’t very many of those. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that a Palin nomination would be Goldwater redux for the GOP.
Indeed, in recent head to head matchups with Palin, Obama is polling close to Johnson’s 20 point victory margin. A January PPP poll showed Obama with a 55% to 38% lead on Palin, while a Marist poll also conducted this month had Obama on top by 26 points, 56% to 30%.
The current TPM Poll Average shows Obama leading Palin 52.5% to 37.4%, with that gap widening. Check out the trend lines:
That bulging split correlates to another growing problem for Palin: her favorability rating. More and more Americans are beginning to view the former Alaska governor unfavorably — 57% in a January CBS/ New York Times poll, 58% in a PPP survey —to the point that the TPM Poll Average shows that a majority of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of her.
If Republicans do nominate Palin — and given her strong conservative support and the fact that she’s performed well in early surveys of the GOP primary, that very well come to pass — it seems likely that they’d be in for a shellacking of their own.