WASHINGTON — Sarah Palin is the most polarizing of the potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, while impressions of Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney lean more positive, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. As for the rest — Pawlenty, Barbour, Thune, Daniels — most Americans say, “Who?”
The election, of course, is far away, and polls this early largely reflect name recognition and a snapshot of current popularity. A year before the last presidential election, the top names in public opinion polls were Rudy Giuliani for the Republicans and Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democrats. Neither won their party’s nomination.
But jockeying among the dozen-plus Republicans eyeing a chance to challenge President Barack Obama is under way. Soon, they will be slogging their way to living rooms in snowy Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states.
Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee, is the best-known and most divisive of the bunch. In the wake of her high-profile role in endorsing candidates all over the country, 46 percent of Americans view her favorably, 49 percent unfavorably, and 5 percent don’t know enough about her to form an opinion.
Her “don’t know” score is considerably lower than those registered by other possible candidates tested in the poll.
Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who won the 2008 GOP Iowa caucus, received the highest favorability rating, 49 percent. About one in four people has no opinion of him, and 27 percent view him unfavorably.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who ran in 2008, had similar results. Nearly a quarter of all Americans have no opinion about him, while 46 percent view him favorably, and 31 percent unfavorably.
In terms of winning the 2012 nomination, the question is how Republican-leaning Americans view the contenders. Palin comes out on top. Among adults who identify themselves as Republicans or GOP-leaning independents, 79 percent view her favorably, and 17 percent unfavorably.
These findings worry many Republican officials. The poll suggests Palin might be able to win the nomination. But among independents_they could be the deciding factor in the general election — just 43 percent hold a favorable view of Palin, compared with 61 percent with a positive view of Obama.
And with half of independents viewing Palin unfavorably, she would have to work hard to persuade a majority of voters to back her.
Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama recently said Palin’s support for tea party-backed candidates cost the GOP control of the Senate.
Elsewhere among the poll’s Republican respondents, 74 percent viewed Huckabee favorably, 10 percent unfavorably. Sixty-four percent viewed Romney favorably, 18 percent unfavorably. For former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, it was 68 percent favorable, 21 percent unfavorable.
Other possible candidates are largely unknown, even among self-identified Republican or GOP-leaning adults. The breakdown:
—Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, 28 percent favorable, 13 percent unfavorable, 59 percent no opinion.
—Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, 27 percent favorable, 14 percent favorable, 58 percent no opinion.
—Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, 24 percent favorable, 13 percent unfavorable, 63 percent no opinion.
—South Dakota Sen. John Thune, 20 percent favorable, 10 percent unfavorable and 70 percent no opinion.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Nov. 3-8, 2010, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1, 000 adults nationwide. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points for all surveyed, and 6.4 percentage points for the questions asked only of Republicans.