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updated 8/22/2011 8:01:10 PM ET 2011-08-23T00:01:10

The top four Republican presidential candidates are running neck-and-neck with President Obama in national general election matchups, according to a new Gallup poll released Monday.

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The poll, conducted last week as Obama's approval rating cratered around 40 percent, shows Obama leading Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., 48 to 44 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., 47 to 45 percent.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry ties the president at 47 percent each, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads Obama, 48 to 46 percent.

At this early stage of the campaign, Republicans are largely lined up behind their candidates to a greater extent than Democrats are behind the incumbent president.

Republicans are firmly behind Perry (92 percent) and Romney (91 percent). Bachmann (86 percent) and Paul (82 percent) perform slightly worse among members of their own party.

Video: Obama campaign adviser on Perry, Bachmann (on this page)

But except for Paul, all of the GOP candidates perform better among members of their party than Obama does among Democrats. Obama earns between 84 and 86 percent among Democrats across the four matchups.

Independents are split: Romney and Paul lead among that group by three points, Perry by two, but Obama leads Bachmann among independents by six points.

But there is likely to be a great deal of change between now and Election Day, according to a brief history of Gallup surveys conducted at this stage of the campaign.

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-- In August 1999, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush led Vice President Al Gore by 14 points. Gore ended up narrowly winning the popular vote.

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-- In August 1995, then-Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., had a two-point lead over President Bill Clinton. Dole lost by eight.

-- In August 1983, Ronald Reagan had a slender, one-point lead over former Vice President Walter Mondale. Reagan would be re-elected by 18 points the following November, after economic growth spiked in the second half of Reagan's first term.

-- In August 1979, President Jimmy Carter and Reagan were tied at 45 percent. Reagan won by 10 points in 1980.

The new Gallup poll was conducted Aug. 17-18. Gallup surveyed 879 registered voters, for a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percent.

The article, "Gallup Poll: GOP Contenders Neck-And-Neck With Obama," first appeared in the National Journal.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

Video: Obama campaign adviser on Perry, Bachmann

  1. Transcript of: Obama campaign adviser on Perry, Bachmann

    MS. GUTHRIE: All right, let's move on. Let's talk about the Republicans . As you know, Texas Governor Rick Perry had his first full week of campaigning, and he took some shots at the president. Let's take a look.

    GOV. PERRY: I think you want a president that is passionate about America , that's in, that's in love with America . I know what this country needs .

    REPORTER: Governor, you said you would be a president who loves America . Are you suggesting that the current president does not love America ?

    GOV. PERRY: No, you need to ask him. The president had the opportunity to serve his country , I'm sure at some time, and he made a decision that that wasn't what he wanted to do.

    MS. GUTHRIE: The president said this week he'd cut Rick Perry some slack. Will you? Was it appropriate for this candidate to suggest the president doesn't love his country .

    MR. GIBBS: Well, two things come to mind. Rick Perry is the governor who, two years ago, openly talked about whether or not Texas should leave the union. So I think for Rick Perry to, at one point, talk about secession from the union as early as -- or as far back as only 2009 , I think it's good that he's professed his love for this country . But I'll be honest with you, Savannah , I think the American people are tired of the politics where, if you and I don't agree on something, I question your love of country and your patriotism. That's not going to put anybody back to work. That's not going to make this country stronger, and it's quite frankly not what our country was founded on. We ought to be able to have honest, political debates in this country about very different visions and about very different ways in which we see this country moving without questioning people's patriotism and love for country .

    MS. GUTHRIE: Here's Michele Bachmann , another candidate, talking about how she thinks the White House views her.

    REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN): I am one of the only candidates that this administration has been coming after. They fear my candidacy more than any other.

    MS. GUTHRIE: OK, Robert , is this the candidate the White House most fears?

    MR. GIBBS: Look, I think that Republicans are, are going to do battle in this. We saw it last week in Iowa where, where Michele Bachmann scored an important win in the Iowa Straw Poll . But I think the American people are going to get a chance, quite frankly , to kick the tires a little bit and look under the hood. I think when it comes to somebody like Governor Rick Perry , they're going to wonder why a place like Texas has one of the worst education systems. They're going to wonder why a guy who doesn't like the government, the largest employer in Texas is Fort Hood , an army base. Twenty-five billion dollars from the Economic Recovery Act went to Texas and helped Rick Perry balance his budget. They're going to wonder why, quite frankly , they're 47th in wages, just like they're going to wonder why Mitt Romney , when he was of Massachusetts was 47th in job creation.

    MS. GUTHRIE: I'm glad you brought up Mitt Romney . Last I checked, actually, Romney was the candidate White House advisers most feared. And there was an article in Politico recently that cited many Obama advisers saying the strategy against Romney was to portray him as, "weird." Is that your strategy?

    MR. GIBBS: No. I, I, I'm happy to say that I'm not quoted either off the record on background or on the record in that article.

    MS. GUTHRIE: You may not be, but several advisers were said to have said the word "weird" to describe Romney repeatedly.

    MR. GIBBS: And I don't -- I quite honestly don't know why -- if I was making the case to somebody about why you should vote for somebody and why you shouldn't vote for somebody else, I don't think weird would be in the top 50 words I'd use to describe that person. I don't think that's how the people of America process their political choices. I think there's plenty to talk about with Mitt Romney . Like I said, four years as governor of Massachusetts , and they finished 47th in job creation. And, quite frankly , had Hurricane Katrina not hit Louisiana , they'd have finished 48th. There's plenty of things to talk about with Mitt Romney . Just this week, Mitt Romney talked about overregulation in our economy. The overregulation he was talking about was the Wall Street reform that we passed in 2010 . He thinks Wall Street reform, not letting Wall Street write the rules for how we do business, that's the kind of regulation we have too much of in this country . I think people that watch their housing values basically decimated overnight don't think that we have too many people watching -- or had too many people watching what Wall Street was doing in 2006 and 2007 and 2008 . And that's, quite frankly , not what they want to go back to.

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