- Associated Press - Sunday, October 31, 2010

Democratic voters are closely divided over whether President Obama should be challenged within the party for a second term in 2012, an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks Poll finds.

Among Democrats, 47 percent say Mr. Obama should be challenged for the 2012 nomination, and 51 percent say he should not be opposed. Those favoring a contest include most who backed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s unsuccessful run against Mr. Obama for the 2008 nomination.

That glum assessment carries over into the nation at large, which is similarly divided over whether Mr. Obama should be a one-term president.

A real Democratic challenge to Mr. Obama seems unlikely at this stage, and his re-election bid is a long way off. But the findings underscore how disenchanted his party has grown heading into the congressional elections Tuesday.

The AP-KN poll has tracked a group of people and their views since the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign. Among all 2008 voters, 51 percent say he deserves to be defeated in November 2012, while 47 percent support his re-election - essentially a tie.

Political operatives and polling experts caution that Mr. Obama’s poll standings say more about people’s frustrations today with the economy and other conditions than they do about his re-election prospects. With the next presidential election two years away - an eon in politics - the public’s view of Mr. Obama could easily improve if the economy revives or if he outmaneuvers Republicans on Capitol Hill or in the presidential campaign.

“Democrats currently disappointed with Obama will likely be less disappointed if he spends the next two years fighting a GOP Congress” should Republicans do well on Election Day, said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin political science professor and polling analyst.

Even so, the poll illustrates how Mr. Obama’s reputation has frayed since 2008. It suggests lingering bad feelings from Democrats’ bitter primary fight, when he and Mrs. Clinton - now his secretary of state - roughly split the popular vote. Political professionals of both parties said the findings are a warning for the president, whose formal re-election effort is expected to begin stirring next year.

“It’s an indicator of things he needs to address between now and then,” said Kiki McLean, a Democratic strategist who worked in Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

The White House declined comment on the results.

The 1,254 randomly chosen people in the survey are from a group that was polled 11 times during the 2008 campaign by AP, Knowledge Networks and Yahoo News.

Recent history shows presidents’ early polling numbers mean little about their re-election prospects.

At this stage two years before their re-elections, Presidents Clinton and Reagan had approval ratings that were lower than Mr. Obama’s now, according to the Gallup Poll; both men won a second term. The ratings for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Carter were better than Mr. Obama‘s; both lost.

“Presidents Mondale, Dole and McCain all speak to the very substantial limits of off-year polling results,” said Bill McInturff, Mr. McCain’s 2008 pollster, as he named three politicians who fell short of the White House. Walter Mondale lost to Reagan in 1984, while Mr. Clinton defeated Bob Dole in 1996.