Can a candidate — any candidate — whose favorables or likability consistently polls in the high 20s and low 30s be elected president? We have asked this question recently (here and here) as it relates Mitt Romney, recently, and now Kevin Drum at Mother Jones addresses it in a post titled, “Romney’s Big Problem: People Just Don’t Like Him Much”:
This is from the latest YouGov poll [PDF], and it shows Mitt Romney’s big problem in a nutshell: people just don’t like him much. He’s doing OK among Republicans, and he’ll probably do better as the election draws closer, but among independents he’s 24 percentage points behind Obama in likeability. You may or may not believe that Americans should vote for the guy they’d rather watch the Super Bowl with, but they do. And right now, they really, really don’t want to invite Romney into their living rooms.
Last week, Andrew Sullivan suggested that Romney’s low — 39.8 percent to Pres. Obama’s 45.1 percent — favorable rating in an aggregate of polls motivated his campaign to try to dirty up the president by sending surrogates out to say Obama needed to “learn how to be an American” and remind voters that Obama has admitted to casual drug use in his youth. (The fact that they relied on John Sununu, who was born in Cuba, and Oxycontin-addict Rush Limbaugh to do their dirty work says a lot about the campaign.)
Back in April, Nate Silver at the New York Times asked “Do Romney’s Favorability Ratings Matter?”
On average over New York Times/CBS News polls conducted in January, February and March, Mr. Romney’s favorable rating was 26 percent and his unfavorable rating was 37 percent, for a net-negative of 11 points. These figures are fairly poor historically but not unprecedented. Bob Dole had similar numbers in New York Times/CBS News polls in early 1996. Bill Clinton was not as well known in 1992 as Mr. Romney is this year, meaning that both his favorable and unfavorable ratings were lower, but his net score (negative 11) was the same as Mr. Romney’s. And Jimmy Carter had very poor favorability ratings as an incumbent in 1980 (just as his approval ratings were poor).
Overall, these early-stage favorability ratings have had a mixed track record as a predictor of election outcomes. The candidate with the better net-favorable rating in the early-going won the election in 1976, 1980, 1984, 1996, and 2008. But Mr. Clinton won the election in 1992, despite making a poor first impression on voters. On the flip side, Michael Dukakis had very promising favorability numbers early in the 1988 cycle, but they deteriorated over the course of the election cycle and he took a clear defeat. (I’m not sure where you’d classify the 2000 election because of the split between the popular vote and the Electoral College, or 2004 since George W. Bush and John Kerry had essentially the same net favorability rating in the early going.)
In the most recent New York Times/CBS poll, Romney’s favorable/unfavorable was 32-38 percent, showing a slight uptick since the primaries ended and former supporters of his opponents have moved his way. Still, a 32 percent favorable rating is, as Romney might say, severely low for a presidential candidate four months from Election Day.
- Section: News & Comment