The media has talked about Paul Ryan’s budget as an albatross that would hang from Mitt Romney’s neck with or without Ryan on the ticket, and the assumption has been that Ryan himself will also be a net negative for the GOP in November.  Democrats tried to proactively damage Ryan’s standing with voters by depicting him pushing an elderly woman off of a cliff in May 2011, when Ryan first proposed his comprehensive, long-term budget reform package in May 2011Rasmussen Reports has reminds us that a July survey showed Ryan’s favorability as mainly positive, albeit with a significant number of likely voters who need more time to make up their minds:

Mitt Romney announced this morning that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan will be his running mate.

Earlier polling found that 39% of all voters had a favorable opinion of Ryan, while 25% offered a negative review.  Thirty-five percent (35%) express no opinion of Ryan. The congressman is relatively unknown to the nation at large. Only a third of voters have a strong opinion in either direction.

Wisconsin is a state both sides consider key to the presidential election. Right now, President Obama has a modest three-point lead over Romney in the state, and it remains a Toss-Up in the Rasmussen Reports Electoral College Projections 

Scott Rasmussen has explained why Romney’s roll-out of his vice presidential pick is as important as the choice itself. “Most Americans will learn all they know about the new name on the ticket during the week the candidate is introduced,” he wrote in a recent newspaper column. While 69% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of Ryan, 42% of voters not affiliated with either major political party have no opinion of him one way or the other at this point.

Let’s take a look at the demos from that July poll.  What leaps out from that survey is that Ryan actually does better among independents than any of the other presumed short-listers, save Condoleezza Rice, who wasn’t really shortlisted at all.  Among unaffiliated voters, Ryan scores a 36/22 favorability, compared to 31/29 for Bobby Jindal, 26/28 for Tim Pawlenty, and a dismal 15/16 for Rob Portman.  (Rice was 63/19 among indies.)  Ryan also scores best among women, albeit with a narrow 29/25 edge.

For even more counterintuitive results, look at Ryan’s standing among seniors.  Despite the attacks on Ryan over his budget plan, he’s easily the most liked of the short-listers among likely voters 65 years of age and over, with a 52/29 favorability rating.  His “very favorable” rating of 31% in the 65+ group is more than 10 points better than the other shortlisters in the Rasmussen survey (again, save Rice).  Jindal did well, too, with a 44/28, as did Pawlenty with a 40/30 and Portman at 37/26, but Ryan’s draw among seniors outpaced all of them.   Ryan has plenty of room to be defined in either direction with 35% of voters overall not having an opinion, but that’s only true of 20% of seniors — and Ryan already has a majority of them on his side.

Looks like the Ryan choice was both bold and pragmatic. It still means that Romney and Ryan have to aggressively push to define Ryan themselves, rather than allow the media or the Obama team do it first.

Update: Commenter Florah Duh reminds me that seniors actually liked Ryan’s plan best, according to a Gallup poll in 2011:

A new Gallup/USA Today poll contains a counterintuitive finding: the age group most receptive to House Budget Chair Paul Ryan‘s plan to deal with the budget – seniors.

The poll finds 48 percent of seniors (those 65 and over) support Ryan’s plan over President Obama‘s plan, while 42 percent back the president.

That’s the highest total among the age groups tested – a 47 percent plurality between the ages of 50 and 64 backed Ryan, and a 45 percent plurality of those between 30-49 backed Ryan. But young voters overwhelmingly sided with Obama by a 23-point margin, 53 to 30 percent.

Maybe that’s because seniors knew better than to believe that the current trajectory would protect their benefits in anything but the short run.