The concept of “electability” is often a consideration used by voters to evaluate candidates. Fortunately, since December 1, the number of polls taken comparing each candidate head-to-head with President Obama have been increasing significantly. We have used these polls to create the graphic to the left, which compares the four remaining Republican candidates plus/minus differential in polls directly versus the President. On this graph, if a candidate is at 0, it is a tie between him and Obama. If the candidate is above 0, they are beating Obama, likewise, if below zero, they are losing to Obama.

This data shows clear trends, especially as the polling became more plentiful after January 1. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are the only candidates who consistently poll at or near the margin of error versus President Obama, with Romeny beating Obama over a 12 day stretch. The least data is available for Rick Santorum, but he is unlikely to beat the President, if the elections were held today. Newt Gingrich has never been particularly close to the President in head-to-head polling, with the exception of one late November poll where he came in at +2 during the height of his first run of popularity.

Additionally, Gallup’s recent poll of 14 swing states, the key areas for winning the general election, show Romney in a statistical tie–up 1 point–Paul and Santorum down 7 points, and Gingrich down 14 points.

The electability polling will likely change somewhat each time the Republican choices are reduced, as those polled do tend to have a bias toward their preferred candidate and against the other candidates. However, based on what we know today, the data is clear. If ensuring Barack Obama does not have a second term is your primary goal, the most likely candidate to defeat him is Mitt Romney. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are close enough that arguments certainly could be made in their favor as well, especially in the case of Dr. Paul who has consistently trended near the President as far back as January 1. A Newt Gingrich, nomination, on the other hand, would be by far the most likely to guarantee a second Obama term.

Methodology: For comparison purposes, the data points are plotted on a time series plot, expressed by a 10 day rolling average. This was necessary due to polls not necessarily taken on the same day and far fewer data points available for Rick Santorum.
Sources: ABC News/Washington Post, Associated Press/GfK, CBS News/NY Times, CNN/Opinion Research, FOX News, McClatchy/Marist, NBC News/Wall Street Jounral, Pew Research, PPP, Quinnipiac, Rasmussen Reports, Reuters/Ipsos, USA Today/Gallup.