fdu_public_mind_pollMADISON, NJ - While 70% of voters say the country is “on the wrong track,” and the president’s disapprovals (46%) edge out his approvals (45%), Obama still outpaces every potential Republican nominee for president in trial heats, according to a new national poll of registered voters by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™.

“Any Republican challenger will have to unite a fractured base,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll. “That’s a problem the incumbent president doesn’t have right now.”

In head to head trials, Obama bests former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 46%-42% and former House speaker Newt Gingrich by 48%-42%. Other hopeful Republican nominees trail the president badly. Obama beats Gov. Rick Perry by 53%-35% and Rep. Michele Bachmann by 57%-30%. The trial heats break out largely along party lines, with independents making the margins larger or smaller.

One thing voters of both political parties can agree on, though not the candidates, is the US military withdrawal from Iraq scheduled to be completed by the end of the month: 71% of all voters approve, with Democrats approving 89%-5%, independents by 71%-15%, and Republicans grudgingly positive by 48%-31%, but with one in five (20%) unsure or mixed.

“The election of 2012 will contrast greatly to that of 2008 and 2004 because Iraq will be a side issue, if not completely ignored,” said Woolley. “While foreign policy and economic policy are barely distinguishable these days, voters still draw a hard, straight line between the two.”

Meanwhile, Republicans are flirting with Gingrich as their new favorite. Gingrich takes 36% of the Republican preferences, a 13-point advantage over Romney’s 23%.  All the other major candidates are far behind in a second tier, with Herman Cain’s collapsing candidacy garnering just 8% and Gov. Rick Perry with just 6%.

“Every candidate but perhaps Romney has seriously damaged his or her own campaign at least once so far,” said Woolley. “At this point, it’s a campaign for survival.”  Romney and Gingrich also dominate the field as “second choices.” If they can’t have their first pick, 22% of voters prefer to have Romney and another 22% prefer Gingrich.

Heading up the least favorite list, i.e. “which candidate… is your least favorite,” are Cain and libertarian Ron Paul, each with 17%.  Bachman and Perry each get 13%, while Jon Huntsman breaks into this wrong second tier with a double-digit performance of 10%, suggesting all have limitations beyond their anemic support.

The FDU poll of 855 registered voters nationwide was conducted by both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 29 through Dec. 5, 2011, and has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points. Republican preferences are based on 545 Republican and lean Republican voters and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.