Take this with a grain of salt, of course. Polling a generic Republican is a very different beast than weighing the merits of a living, breathing, actual candidate. Nonetheless, Axelrod, Plouffe and the rest of Obama's reelect team have to be a bit nervous about this Gallup poll:
U.S. registered voters are evenly split about whether they would back President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012 (45%) or "the Republican Party's candidate" (45%). This is similar to the results for the same question when it was asked a year ago.
Gallup includes some historical context as to how this question relates to Obama's 2012 chances:
Results from a parallel question Gallup asked during the presidencies of George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush show both of those presidents performing better on this re-elect measure at comparable points in their third years in office than Obama does today.
In polling from October 2001 through January 2004, George W. Bush consistently led an unnamed Democratic opponent, although by a shrinking margin as his job approval rating descended from a post-9/11 reading of 87% to the 50s and 60s. In February 2003, the point in Bush's presidency comparable to Obama's presidency today, Bush beat a generic Democrat among registered voters by 47% to 39%.
Gallup trends during George H.W. Bush's tenure were asked mostly during his third year in office, and show a similar descent in the elder Bush's standing vis-à-vis an unnamed Democrat. However, Bush's position switched from a strong lead -- 54% to 33% -- in February 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, to a slight deficit (39% to 43%) in early January 1992.
On the surface that doesn't look great for Obama, but if anything the example of George H.W. Bush's poll numbers shows how much can can change in a year. There's plenty of time for Obama's numbers to rise or fall before te election heats up in earnest. But like I said, if I were an Obama supporter I would want to see better numbers at this point.