NASHVILLE -- Tennesseans are lukewarm on President Barack Obama, but they prefer him slightly to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in a hypothetical 2012 matchup, a Vanderbilt University poll has found.
A majority of Tennesseans disapproves of Obama's job performance, even as his popularity increased nationwide after the Arizona shootings in early January.
But Obama holds a nearly 5-percentage point edge over Palin, one of the top candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, among the 710 Tennesseans polled by Vanderbilt's Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.
The finding suggests that the Republican Party stands a good chance of holding on to Tennessee next year, but Palin still would have to win over many in the state, including independents and tea party activists, said Josh Clinton, a Vanderbilt political science professor who co-directed the poll.
"There are lots of opportunities there for a Republican who isn't Palin," Clinton said.
Fewer than 44 percent of respondents said they approve of how Obama is handling his job. Nearly 54 percent said they disapprove.
Tennesseans were even more negative toward Congress. Nearly 65 percent said they disapprove of Congress, while 26 percent said they approve. Nine percent said they need to wait and see.
In interviews conducted apart from the poll, several Middle Tennesseans expressed disappointment with partisanship in Congress.
"It seems like they're constantly embroiled, despite all the talk about working together," said Melysa Baucom, a manager at Rhino Books in Nashville. "If this party wants to do this, the other party is against it. ... People are not talking enough on a human level."
Pollsters also asked Tennesseans whether they would vote in 2012 for Obama, Palin or someone else. Nearly 42 percent selected Obama, while about 37 percent picked Palin.
About one in five respondents chose neither. Pollsters did not ask about other possible Republican presidential candidates.
The results suggest Obama has a stronger base of voters.
"People talk about [Palin] being the tea party candidate, but that seems premature," Clinton said.
Obama outpolled Palin 44 percent to 32 percent among independents, and he outperformed Palin 57 percent to 24 percent among moderates.
Contact Chas Sisk at email@example.com or 615-259-8283.