The challenge of overcoming personal unpopularity, redux

The challenge of overcoming personal unpopularity, redux
The challenge of overcoming personal unpopularity, redux
Pew Research Center

The topline results of the new Pew Research Center poll will probably get most of the attention: President Obama leads Mitt Romney in the poll by 10 points, 51% to 41%. Before Democrats get too excited about this, though, Nate Silver explained the gap isn’t as impressive as it seems, and Obama’s swing-state lead actually shrank in the poll, from seven to four points.

Of greater interest, at least to me, was a separate tidbit, which reinforces a trend I’ve been covering closely this year. From Pew’s report:

Romney faces a more daunting challenge, as more voters say they have an unfavorable (52%) than favorable (37%) opinion of him. The only prior presidential candidates to be viewed negatively going into the election were George H.W. Bush in October 1992 and Bob Dole in October 1996.

Obama’s favorability ratings certainly aren’t setting any records, but he remains generally popular and his favorable/unfavorable numbers are at least above water.

Romney’s 37% rating, however, makes him, at least for now, the least liked major-party nominee since Pew began polling on this a quarter-century ago. Kerry was better liked after the Swiftboating; Gore was better liked after the media tried to destroy him; McCain was better liked after picking Palin.

The 2012 Republican nominee has been running for president, nearly non-stop, for more than six years, but he’s still struggling to get voters to warm up to him.

As we discussed last week, this hardly means Romney’s a sure-fire loser. If the American mainstream is deeply dissatisfied with the status quo and blames the president, even if he doesn’t deserve it, voters may very well hold their nose and elect the guy they dislike.

But the fact that people don’t seem to care for him makes his task inherently more difficult.

At a certain level, factors like favorable/unfavorable ratings may seem irrelevant. After all, presidential races aren’t personality contests.

Except, a lot of the time, like it or not, they are personality contests. Think about how many times you’ve heard about which candidate voters would prefer “to have a beer with.”

Especially in the television era, the candidate who’s better liked is generally better positioned to win, and at least at this point, voters’ perceptions of Romney just aren’t favorable at all. After nearly six years on the national campaign trail, Americans don’t seem to like the guy.

I’m not sure how the Republican campaign turns this around, but I suspect it will have something to do with trying to drag Obama down, not building Romney up.