The media are all abuzz about Mitt Romney’s likability ratings, perhaps because it’s one of the few issues where polls, even those skewed to favor Democrats, show him struggling to hold his own against the president. As is often the case, Ed Morrissey puts this story in its proper context, finding that in one of the skewed surveys, nearly 40% of the respondents have yet to form an opinion about the former Bay State governor:
More than a third of respondents (37%) don’t know enough about Romney to form an opinion of him, while only 13% say that about Obama. (Really? After more than three years as President?) That is why having a dead heat at this stage of the race is such bad news for Team Obama, along with a re-elect number in the mid-40s. Romney has much more room to improve his standing than Obama does, and that’s why Team Obama has been so desperate to attack Romney on a personal basis.
Emphasis added. As non-affiliated voters start to focus on the presidential election, the Obama team (along with their allies in the legacy media) are doing their utmost to define Obama’s likely successor.
They’ll be fighting against the tendency of the American people to give a party’s presidential nominee a fair hearing once his party starts to coalesce around his campaign. Indeed, one poll which weighted Democrats disproportionally to recent voting patterns, released this past Tuesday “indicates that Romney’s popularity is starting to rebound now that the divisiveness of the primaries appears to be all but over“:
Forty-four percent of people questioned in the survey say they have a favorable view of the former Massachusetts governor, up 10 points from February, during some of the most heated moments of the GOP primaries and caucuses. Forty-three percent say they have an unfavorable opinion of Romney, down 11 points from February. Thirteen percent are unsure.
No wonder Joe Biden is trying to “Bork” Mitt Romney; he and his fellow partisans want to prevent those thirteen percent from gaining a favorable opinion of the presumptive Republican nominee while solidifying the unfavorable view of the forty-three percent.
A nonincumbent’s unfavorability ratings are not set in stone. Indeed, the New York Times‘s Nate Silver reminds us that once past general elections have gotten “under way, such as in 1988 and 1992“, there “have been clear reversals in favorability ratings”. “As for likability,” HotAir’s Karl reminds us
. . . there is actually little empirical study (afaik) of its effect on election outcomes. However, the WaPo’s Chris Cillizza notes that in elections with an incumbent since 1980, Mondale, Dole and Kerry all had high favorable ratings and lost, while Bill Clinton won with middling favorable ratings. I would add that the focus on Obama’s favorables tends to obscure the fact that he also tends to have high unfavorables, close to those of Romney, who has lower favorables, but a fair share of unknowns.
In order to keep the focus off the president’s high unfavorables, the Democrats are doing their utmost to elevate those of the incumbent’s presumptive fall rival. What incumbent running for reelection had so personalized the race against his fall rival so soon in the cycle? (More on this anon.)
UPDATE: Studying two polls showing that the president and his presumptive Republican challenger enjoy almost identical net favorability rates, Jim Geraghty offers that the “numbers aren’t great news for Romney, but with about a third of respondents not yet having a favorable or unfavorable opinion, he could improve them. It seems likely that most Americans know what they think of President Obama after three and a half years in office.“