With Rick Santorum stepping aside, Gallup marked the end of its polling on the race for the Republican presidential nomination with an interesting report the other day. The point was to highlight some historical context -- how does Mitt Romney's standing among GOP voters compare to other recent party nominees?
As it turns out, not well. Going back to 1976, the Republican nominee, at the end of the nomination fight, enjoyed GOP support between 57% and 86%. Romney's support as of this week in his own party? 42%.
There's every reason to believe this will soon change and shift heavily in Romney's favor. As we saw yesterday, a stray remark on CNN from a pundit most Republicans had never heard of was enough to cause conservatives everywhere to rally behind the Romney campaign as if they'd been ordered to do so. It was a reminder that Republican will coalesce around their nominee -- they always do.
But this hints at a larger, ongoing issue about Romney's lukewarm support overall. BuzzFeed's Zeke Miller, using CNN polling data, posted an interesting item this week comparing Romney's favorable/unfavorable numbers with other recent presidential challengers. I put together this chart to help highlight the results.
There may be a sense that Romney's troubles are routine, since candidates who've endured a long, contentious nominating process are inevitably bruised by the process. But this chart reinforces the fact that Romney is in unusually bad shape, since other recent challengers have been far better liked after wrapping up their party's nod in their respective campaigns.
This is not to say Romney can't improve his standing -- though it isn't easy to change perceptions like these, it's only April and he has plenty of time (and money) to impress underwhelmed voters.
But this, at a minimum, poses another challenge for the former governor. As we talked about the other day, 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.