Thanks largely to President Obama's tanking favorability, if the 2012 election were held today, Mitt Romney would win. But because of Obamacare's terrible poll numbers, Republicans could end up getting exactly what they wanted during the 2012 campaign. Americans didn't want Mitt Romney. The GOP may not need him.
Let's start with that Romney-versus-Obama number that's invigorated conservative blogs and Republicans on Twitter. Here's how ABC News describes the finding from the poll it conducted with The Washington Post.
[P]erhaps adding insult to injury, registered voters divide numerically in Mitt Romney’s favor, 49-45 percent, if they had a mulligan for the 2012 presidential election. While the difference between the two is within the poll’s error margin, Obama’s support is 6 points below his actual showing a year ago.
There are several caveats in that paragraph. The first is the margin of error warning, though that's not a big deal. The second is the focus on registered voters. Among all Americans, the split is 47 percent to 47 percent. Yes, only registered voters can vote, but ABC News savvily decided to focus on the 49-45 split instead. Interestingly, most of the movement here — comparing the survey results with 2012 exit polls — is also among independents. They backed Romney by 5 points in 2012; chose him by 10 in this poll. But, as any former vice president can tell you, it's not the popular vote that matters in an election. ABC notes that Obamacare, the driver for Obama's unpopularity, is far more unpopular in states that backed Romney — meaning that the split between Obama and Romney is likely larger in those states that Obama lost in 2012 anyway.
The focus of the poll, unsurprisingly, is the president's popularity in the wake of the botched/flubbed/failed/troubled Healthcare.gov roll-out. It's why Obama's suddenly vulnerable to Romney (which, he really isn't, for a variety of reasons) — and the numbers for Obama are stark. Compared to the Post's October poll, which saw Obama's popularity in the positive (50 percent saw him favorably; 48 percent unfavorably), the president's favorability has plunged a net of eight points, to 46 percent favorable / 52 percent unfavorable. (The drop is largely among independents — among Democrats, Obama's favorability actually went up.) But this is a real problem for the president, at least if the trend continues.
For the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, the numbers are even worse. In October, 53 percent of Americans thought the law's roll-out was being mishandled. Now, that figure has grown to 63 percent — with only a third of Americans thinking that the law's implementation has been effective. Overall, some 40 percent of Americans approve of the law, with 57 percent opposed to it. The Post/ABC poll found that the law has popular elements — mandating employer-based health coverage for companies with 50 employees, for example — but the mandate that individuals be covered is deeply unpopular. Which makes sense; a poll of companies would probably see those numbers reversed. A poll conducted by our colleagues at the National Journal does offer a bright spot for the president: 73 percent of Americans don't want to repeal the law or want to give it more time to take effect before making changes.
Again, though, for a president that's been the focus of intense opposition from his first months in office and a healthcare law that prompted, among other opposition, a government shutdown in a futile attempt to block its progress, the real issue isn't whether or not Romney would win a 2013 fantasy campaign. The important thing for Obama is whether or not he can muster support on Capitol Hill to keep his signature health care proposal from being undermined — which depends on Congress thinking it has public support to stand behind the legislation. If Obama can't count on that, there's no point in fantasizing about Romney winning in 2013. At that point, it's not much different than if he won in 2012.