This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," December 19, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: A lot of attention is being paid to the Republican primary polls, but perhaps the most telling number heading into the 2012 is the president's own approval ratings.
New poll numbers today revealed that majority of Americans, 51 percent, disapprove of President Obama's job performance while just 47 percent of the voters say that they approve of Obama's performance.
Joining us now with analysis of this and tell us which GOP candidates are best suited to take down President Obama next year, pollsters, Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen. Thank you for being with us, gentlemen. Appreciate it as always.
Well, where do we start? Tell us where we are in terms of the president's approval ratings. I gave you the raw numbers, what do they mean?
SCOTT RASMUSSEN, RASMUSSEN REPORTS: Well, first of all, the president is vulnerable. His numbers are below 50 percent. If his job approval rating is at 47 percent on Election Day, he'll get somewhere around 47 percent of the vote. But Republicans shouldn't get too cocky because there is not a lot of yardage between that 47 level and 50 percent support. If the economy gets better, this president could be in a strong position by next November.
DOUG SCHOEN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I agree with what Scott said. There's one other caveat. As unpopular as President Obama is, Senator, the Republicans are arguably more unpopular.
If you listen to what David Axelrod said today, the White House is prepared to run a strong negative campaign against the Republicans generally and the House Republicans in particular, labeling them intransigent in the fight over the payroll tax cut.
THOMPSON: That is what he needs that billion dollars for.
SCHOEN: You can't, as I think Scott suggested, make an argument that his policies have improved the country and put us on the right track. In fact, most Americans, 75 percent or more, say we're up on the wrong track. Hence, it's going to be a brutal, divisive, negative campaign.
RASMUSSEN: Here is why. In the campaign during 2008, 43 percent of the Americans said their finances were in good shape. That number is at 30 percent today. You can't answer the question, are you better off than you were four years ago today in any manner that looks good for President Obama. So it's going to be a very negative campaign all around.
THOMPSON: So that is why the president doesn't want a referendum but a comparison?
SCHOEN: Yes, it's going to be a comparison. The president benefits from a long drawn out primary contest. He wants the Republicans to beat themselves up so that he can selectively beat up individual Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney as he's been doing.
THOMPSON: He should be pretty happy these days, shouldn't he?
SCHOEN: For somebody who's numbers are below 50 percent, I think there is a sense of confidence in the White House that may be slightly ill-placed, but not totally undeserved.
THOMPSON: Well he's seeing all those Republicans beat up each other up in the state of Iowa. What do the numbers mean? I mean, we obviously understand the difference between under 50 percent and over 50 percent, but we look at the approval numbers. We look at unemployment numbers, we look at right track, wrong track numbers. Historically speaking what should the president be most concerned about as he looks at other presidents' success and failure, and the most happy about?
SCHOEN: I think Scott was exactly right. You look at economic indicators, they are all negative and people's perceptions are even more negative. What he should worry about is Ronald Reagan's question. Are you better or worse off than you were four years ago? A solid majority will say they are worse off now and that is bad for a president seeking re-election.
RASMUSSEN: What the president should really hope for a reasonable third party candidate, because if the president has 45-46- 47 percent and you get a credible third party challenge, that becomes difficult for the Republican to win.
SCHOEN: I'm working with a group called americanselect.org, which is working to put a balanced party on the ballot, a Democrat and Republican. Ross Perot drew evenly from the two parties. I think if we get a third party, I hope we do that it can draw evenly from both parties and it could surprise. Ross Perot led the race for a long time in 1992. I suspect a credible third party this time. An independent candidate could surprise a lot of people and be very competitive.
THOMPSON: Are you asking in these polls, you or others, how they would view a third party candidacy. Is it any different than years past?
RASMUSSEN: Well, you know, we ask about it an awful lot. What you find is Republicans say we can't possibly have a third party because it will split our vote.
When you ask, would you like to see a third party somewhere in the near future, a lot of people say yes. But when you get right down to it and talking about election 2012, Republicans are saying, if you vote for a third party, all you're doing is helping to re-elect Barack Obama.
THOMPSON: Scott, you mentioned something else too. The unemployment numbers might still be high on Election Day, but if they are improving. Of course, I think about Reagan in '84. Unemployment numbers were high, but they were improving.
RASMUSSEN: That's right, and the other thing about that lesson from 1984 is a year before the election, Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan were tied in the polls. And then Ronald Reagan won 49 states because the economy was a rip roaring success in that year. We're not going to have an economy like that in 2012, but if it does get better, the president's numbers will constantly improve.
THOMPSON: But quickly, nationally, Republican primary, what are the latest numbers? I understand we have some that came in just a few hours ago. Gallup poll, want to put those up? Gingrich 26, Romney 24, Paul, 11.
SCHOEN: Newt is coming down, Senator. He is getting attacked heavily in Iowa. His numbers are down into the teens where he had a 10-15-point lead. It's a question whether Ron Paul or Mitt Romney is leading there. But nationally, it's a dead heat between Romney and Gingrich as that graphic suggested.
THOMPSON: Different take there, Scott?
RASMUSSEN: You know, Iowa is where it matters right now. Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are going to be the top tier. We don't know who else will join them. It could be anyone of four candidates, Perry, Bachmann, Santorum or Gingrich could leave Iowa feeling good, or any of those four could leave feeling very bad.
THOMPSON: Thank you very much. Your book, quickly.
RASMUSSEN: "Mad As Hell," on the Tea Party.
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