It's a bit hard, it turns out, to answer this question. That's because most ordinary voters don't know more than a handful of national politicians, so one has to figure out what to do with all those "don't knows" if one wants a clean comparison.
But the simple answer is: most Republicans like most Republican politicians.
That's important, because I've started to see some pundits entirely misinterpret Sarah Palin's favorable ratings among Republicans. Here's Frank Rich, yesterday:
Of course Palin hasn’t decided to run yet. Why rush? In the post-midterms Gallup poll she hit her all-time high unfavorable rating (52 percent), but in the G.O.P. her favorable rating is an awesome 80 percent, virtually unchanged from her standing at the end of 2008 (83 percent). She can keep floating above the pack indefinitely as the celebrity star of a full-time reality show where she gets to call all the shots.There's nothing "awesome" at all about a well-known Republican having an 80% favorable rating among Republicans. Gallup doesn't give her unfavorable rating among Republicans in the poll Rich cites, but in the previous polling back in July, her favorable/unfavorable was at 76/20. Let's call that a 4 to1 ratio. By that standard, of the candidates Gallup reported then, Palin finished ahead of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, but well behind Mike Huckabee (65/10) and a bit behind Bobby Jindal (45/9).
The whole conceit of Rich's column is that the normal rules don't apply to Palin -- for example, he notes that her endorsements of Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, and Tom Tancredo should have hurt her (although outside of the Alaska fiasco, it's hard to say that Palin in particular was a loser in those races, since she was hardly the only prominent Republican to endorse those candidates, and she had plenty of winners as well).
But that conceit breaks down if one accepts that the Sage of Wasilla is not, after all, doing very well with GOP voters. Not only is the 80% favorable number (with a 4:1 favorable ratio) nothing special, but she just doesn't do very well in ballot test questions. She's at 16%, tied with Huck for second behind Romney, in the latest Gallup. Given her significant advantage in name recognition, it's pretty clear that a lot of Republicans who say they like her also have very little interest in voting for her for president.
As I've said before, I'm not going to predict a winner at this point for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. What I will try to do is to interpret the evidence that we see. And to the extent that the early polling is important, what it tells us is that Sarah Palin is a legitimate contender, but hardly a juggernaut, and hardly impervious (yes, even among Republicans) to negative stories in either the nonpartisan or the partisan press.