Despite the ground Mitt Romney has gained in recent polls, he will be in the record books for a statistic he would probably rather forget. Romney is the least likable presidential candidate in 30 years, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll. Since Walter Mondale. And he is the first candidate ever that more people view unfavorably than favourably.
Here’s the breakdown that shows the distinct separation in favorability, or likability, between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
Photo: Washington Post
Photo: Washington Post
Now, the key question: Does it matter?
There are a few pieces of evidence that suggest it probably won’t.
First, as pointed out by the WaPo’s Chris Cillizza, is the historical aspect. Look at the candidates facing an incumbent in the last 30 years of elections — Walter Mondale (vs. Ronald Reagan), Bill Clinton (vs. George H.W. Bush), Bob Dole (vs. Bill Clinton), and John Kerry (vs. George W. Bush).
Who sticks out from those three? Clinton. Why? Because he won. What else sticks out about him, though, is the fact that he was the only one to NOT have a distinctly favourable rating — he was stuck at 37/37 favourable vs. unfavorable.
What this means: Things change. At this point, Bush trailed Kerry in favorability ratings by a whopping margin in 2004.
Another key element to this is the intensity of likability, which Gallup is beginning to measure this year. The higher intensity of likability or unlikability a person has for a candidate, the more likely these emotions will affect them when they vote in November.
“A lot of voting is instinctual, based on patterns, and it can be just related to one’s broad impression of the candidate,” said Frank Newport, the editor in chief at Gallup.
At this point, Romney doesn’t inspire a lot of emotion. That is evidenced by the lack of voters strongly favouring him. But he also doesn’t inspire as much negative emotion as Obama. Also, Newport pointed to Republican candidates Herman Cain and Rick Perry as two who inspired strong favourable emotion. But they also were polarising figures, and ended up inspiring more negative emotion.
That Obama has been an at-times polarising president with controversial legislation like the Affordable Care Act could work against him.
“If you have strong negative emotion, it can drive your opponent’s voters to turn out,” Newport said. “It can work both ways. It’s a good insight. Barack Obama may have the ability to generate intense, strong emotions among his followers. But he also generates some strong negative emotions among people on the other side.”
Finally, there’s the question of how much likability matters. Newport said a lot of voting is “instinctual,” but voters trust Romney more on the economy and the federal budget deficit, two of the three issues voters say are the most important in the campaign.
Anyway, whichever way you look at it, Romney has as good a chance as any to come out on the good side of history with these favorability ratings.
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