George W. Bush ended his term as president in January 2009 with just one signature “accomplishment”: After eight years, he left office as the most unpopular president in the history of presidential polling — his unfavorable ratings were upside down for 39 straight months. When he finally flew back to Texas for good, Bush’s approval was a miserable 34 percent, according to Gallup.
With numbers like those, Bush could not have been reelected, obviously, were that even legally possible. In fact, no candidate who is viewed so negatively could be elected to any office, especially the presidency. Right?
Which brings us to Mitt Romney, the man who would be Bush’s successor as the next Republican president — the candidate who all but refuses to mention Bush as he campaigns — and the pol whose unfavorables among voters, especially in swing states are as bad, or, in at least one case, worse than Bush’s.
In the new NBC/Wall St. Journal poll, Romney’s favorable-unfavorable rating [PDF] is 33 to 39 percent, which is down 6 points from their previous survey. (And by the way, the poll found that George Bush’s approval is still upside down and even sinking with voters; it’s 36-45 percent, a whopping 9-point slide from the previous poll.)
Pres. Obama leads Romney overall in the poll, 47 to 43 percent. The president’s favorable-unfavorable is 48 to 38 percent, which is unchanged.
But here’s where it gets slippery for Romney. The NBC/WSJ poll also looked at swing states:
Among swing-state respondents in the poll — those living in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin — Obama leads Romney, 50 to 42 percent.
Also in these swing states, Romney’s favorability numbers have dropped, possibly reflecting the toll the negative Obama TV advertisements are having on the former Massachusetts governor in these battlegrounds.
A month ago, Romney’s favorable/unfavorable score stood at 34-38 percent nationally and 36-36 percent in the 12 swing states.
But in this latest survey, his national fav/unfav score is 33-39 percent and 30-41 percent in the swing states. (Emphasis added.)
The new Quinnipiac University Poll of voters in swing states Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania found similar results:
The president leads Romney 45 to 41 percent, an improvement from Quinnipiac’s May 3 poll when the president led by 1 point. Romney’s favorable-unfavorable in Florida is 37 to 42 percent, while the president’s is an even 47-47.
(Qunnipiac also found that Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s job approval is still underwater, 48-35 percent, as it has been for his entire 16-month term.)
Pres. Obama has a 9 point lead over Romney in Ohio, 47 to 38 percent — this is an improvement from 44 percent for Obama to 42 percent for Romney in May. Romney’s favorable-unfavorable rating is abysmal in Ohio, 32 to 46 percent. Obama’s rating is 50 to 44 percent. Another key factor in Ohio is that independent voters there back Obama by 9 points, 45 to 36 percent.
A new survey of Ohio voters from Public Policy Polling found that Obama leads Romney in Ohio 47 to 44 percent. Romney’s favorable-unfavorable rating was even worse than Quinnipiac’s rating, 54 to 35 percent. But PPP also found that Obama’s favorable-unfavorable rating to be underwater, 44 to 51 percent,which was a decline of 7 points from a previous poll this year.
Quinnipiac found that Obama leads Romney by 6 points in Pennsylvania, 45 to 39 percent. In May, his lead was 47 to 39 percent. Romney’s unfavorable-favorable rating was 34 to 39 percent, while the president’s was also upside down at 45 to 49 percent.
What, if anything, does this predict for November? Arguably, in order to win by even a slim majority this fall, Romney must raise his favorable ratings to at least 50-50, which would be an increase of 16 points.
Is that even possible? It certainly has not happened recently.
Pundits often compare the 2012 election with the 2004 contest between Bush and Sen. John Kerry, who, like Romney, is from Massachusetts. A George Washington University Battleground 2004 Poll released on June 29 that year found Bush’s favorable-unfavorable were 51 to 47 percent, while Kerry’s were 51 to 43 percent. Bush won the election four months later by 50.7 to 48.3 percent.
A Pew Research poll released on June 17, 2004, found similar results:
Bush and Kerry receive similar favorability ratings from the public. Roughly half rank each candidate favorably (52 percent for Bush, 50 percent for Kerry) with slightly fewer rating each of the candidates unfavorably (45 percent for Bush, 41 percent for Kerry)…
When compared with previous campaigns, Kerry’s favorability rating is identical to Gore’s in May 2000; Bush’s 52 percent mark is somewhat lower than his 58 percent rating at that time. In June 1996, 52 percent expressed a favorable impression of Bob Dole, well below the 61 percent who felt favorably toward Bill Clinton at the time.
In general, favorability ratings at this stage of the campaign are uncertain predictors of electoral success. In 1992 George H. W. Bush had higher favorable ratings than Bill Clinton, who went on to defeat Bush in November. In 1988, fully 66 percent said they had a favorable impression of Michael Dukakis, placing him far above George Bush Sr.’s 51 percent favorability rating.
So in the previous five elections, at least, no major party candidate — even those who went on to lose — had favorable ratings as low as Romney’s are now.