Washington (CNN) – His party got its clock cleaned in Tuesday's midterm elections, but according to a new national poll President Obama remains competitive in hypothetical 2012 presidential election matchups, especially against Sarah Palin.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Thursday also indicates that at the unofficial start of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, the field of possible contenders appears wide open with no front-runner.
According to the poll, 21 percent of Republicans say they would most likely support former Arkansas Gov. and 2008 GOP White House candidate Mike Huckabee for their party's 2012 presidential nomination, with 20 percent saying they'd back former Massachusetts Gov. and 2008 Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, 14 percent supporting Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, and 12 percent backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
The remaining candidates whose names were asked in the question were all in single digits, led by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who also ran for the GOP presidential nomination the last time around, followed by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana at 3 percent, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at 2 percent.
The poll's release comes as Santorum visits New Hampshire to give a speech about the midterm election results and the future of the Republican party. No one has yet to announce a bid for the GOP nomination.
In a possible general election showdown, Obama leads Palin 52-44 percent among all registered voters.
"Looking ahead to 2012, it may be too early to count Barack Obama out, particularly if Sarah Palin is his opponent," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "The former Alaska governor gets a lot of attention, but she is in third place when Republicans are asked to pick a presidential nominee, and in a hypothetical matchup with Obama she is arguably the weakest candidate of the top-tier GOP hopefuls."
In a hypothetical 2012 matchup, Huckabee leads Obama 52 – 44 percent, while Romney has a 50-45 point advantage, which is within the poll's sampling error. Obama hold a 49-47 percent margin over Gingrich.
The poll indicates that four in 10 have a favorable opinion of Palin, with nearly half saying they have an unfavorable view. Romney has a 36 percent favorable rating and a 29 percent unfavorable rating, with 35 percent unsure. Forty-two percent say they see Huckabee in a positive light, with 26 percent saying they hold a negative view and just over three in 10 are unsure. Gingrich has 32 percent favorable rating, with four in 10 saying they have an unfavorable view, and 28 percent unsure.
On the Democratic side, nearly three-quarters of Democrats say they want to see the party renominate Obama in 2012. Why does that matter?
"No incumbent president has faced a significant primary challenge and gone on to win re-election in November. Contested primaries make incumbents look weak and overly-political, and prevent the incumbent from building up goodwill while the opposition party candidates are fighting among themselves," Holland added.
Avoiding a primary challenge won't guarantee Obama victory in November 2012, but the fact that 73 percent of Democrats want to see the party renominate Obama may scare off any Democrats who are contemplating a run against him, and that gets him one step closer to a second term.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll was conducted October 27-30, before the midterm elections, with 921 registered voters, including 500 respondents who describe themselves and Republicans or independents who lean Republican, and 453 respondents who describe themselves as Democrats or independents who lean Democratic, questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.
CNN also conducted exit polls on election day in the some of the states that vote first in the presidential primary calendar. In Iowa, 21 percent of Republicans questioned as they exited the voting booth said that Romney was their likely choice in the 2012 Iowa caucuses, with Huckabee also at 21 percent, Palin at 18 percent, Gingrich at 7 percent and one in five saying they would support another possible candidate.
In New Hampshire, 39 percent of Republicans say that Romney is their likely choice in the state's primary, with Palin at 18 percent, Huckabee at 11 percent, Gingrich at eight percent and 19 percent saying they would back another possible contender.
Twenty-five percent of South Carolina Republicans say Palin would be their likely primary choice, followed by Huckabee at 24 percent, Romney at 21 percent and Gingrich at 10 percent.
–CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.