The Washington Post is reporting that a new ABC/WP poll shows a major decline in Sarah Palin's favorability ratings. Her favorables have dropped from a peak of 58% after the GOP convention in September to 40% now, while her unfavorables have surged from a low of 28% to 53% now. Her 40/53 favorable-unfavorable ratio puts her into Hillary/Bush/Cheney territory as one of the most polarizing figures in American politics -- quite an achievement for someone who was a completely unknown less than a year ago.
It's almost impossible to imagine Palin getting the GOP nomination in 2012 at this point (though Intrade still puts the probability at 16%). With numbers like that, her general election prospects are dim, and the Post poll shows growing doubts about her among Republicans as well:
Republicans and GOP-leaning independents continue to rank Palin among the top three contenders in the run-up to 2012, however, with 70 percent of Republicans viewing her in a positive light in the new poll. But her support within the GOP has deteriorated from its pre-election levels, including a sharp drop in the number holding "strongly favorable" impressions of her.
And while Palin's most avid following is still among white evangelical Protestants, a core GOP constituency, and conservatives, far fewer in these groups have "strongly favorable" opinions of her than did so last fall.
...Perhaps more vexing for Palin's national political aspirations, however, is that 57 percent of Americans say she does not understand complex issues, while 37 percent think she does, a nine-percentage-point drop from a poll conducted in September just before her debate with now-Vice President Biden. The biggest decline on the question came among Republicans, nearly four in 10 of whom now say she does not understand complex issues. That figure is 70 percent among Democrats and 58 percent among independents.
The candidates are ordered left to right by their favorable-unfavorable ratio in the most recent poll on Pollingreport.com. As you can see, Palin's numbers are even worse than Newt Gingrich (!) -- the other highly polarizing candidate -- and she has less room to change her image because so many Americans already have an impression of her. By contrast, Romney, Huckabee, Jindal, and Pawlenty start the race without that sort of baggage and are therefore much more likely to make a serious run for the nomination.
To be sure, it's not impossible to come back from numbers like Palin's. Hillary Clinton overcame numbers that were nearly as bad and almost won the Democratic presidential nomination, but she did so with a great deal of hard work and discipline -- qualities that Palin appears to lack. Runner's World photo spreads, feuds with David Letterman, and useless policy op-eds are not going to turn her image around anytime soon.
(Cross-posted at Pollster.com)