How much will Obama’s unlikeability be a factor in 2012
posted at 1:23 pm on May 13, 2012 by Howard Portnoy
My apologies to readers for reacting for a second day to a column by The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky, but sometimes that’s just how the winds of political opinionating blow.
In his Sunday musing, Tomasky returns to the scene of the crime he focused on in Saturday, the crime being the 1965 hazing of a fellow prep school student by current presumptive GOP Mitt Romney. In today’s column, Tomasky concedes that “very few votes are going to be cast on the basis of what Mitt Romney did or didn’t do to John Lauber … so that, per se, isn’t Romney’s problem. But this is: The story lands as another brick on pile of evidence amassing that he’s just a disagreeable human being.”
Tomasky engages in some seat-of-the-pants scholarship to plumb the question of when a “clearly less likeable candidate beat the clearly more likeable one for the White House.” He tells us that he “put the question to Gallup, which didn’t have historical numbers at hand.” Suffice it to say, he concludes, it’s been “a long time.”
Gallup may not have had an answer to Tomasky’s rather arcane question, but the organization has plenty of data on the comparative likeability of the two candidates. Its May 8 survey finds Barack Obama ahead of Romney 60% to 31%, a very comfortable 29% margin. Other polls similarly show the president with a commanding lead in the area of likeability, especially among women. All other factors being equal (which of course all factors are not), if the election were held today, Obama would easily win a second term.
I would like to add another piece of speculative “research” to the mix, and that is Obama’s overall unlikeability rating. I appreciate that 3 out of 5 respondents reported that they like Obama as a person, but to what extent do the remaining 40% dislike the man and how will this factor into the fall election?
This, too, is a datum that Gallup won’t have readily available, so, like Tomasky, my observations herein are based on “noodling around on my own.” I began by creating a baseline for comparison. I did a Google search for the key word strings “George W. Bush stupid” and “George W. Bush dishonest (as in Bush lied, thousands died),” those being the most salients traits of the previous president as identified by his detractors . The first search returned 24 million web pages, the second 2 million.
I then did the same with Barack Obama and the character traits most often ascribed to him by those for whom his ineluctable charms are highly eluctable. The string “Barack Obama petty” returned 10.5 million hits. The variants with “sarcastic” and “ego” each returned 10 million hits, “arrogant” 5.7 million, “polarizing” 3 million, “thin-skinned” 1 million. When you add the totals, you find that Barack Obama turns the stomachs of voters nearly 1 and two thirds times as frequently as did George W. Bush, who few would argue is one of the most hated presidents in history.
As to how any of this will impact the fall election, I don’t have any more of a clue than Tomasky has in his own columnistic flight of fancy, which is based purely on wishful thinking. As he himself notes in a moment of sad reflection:
Barack Obama’s biggest problem … is that despite all the many areas in which Americans rate him higher than Romney, the one on which they give Romney the edge happens to be pretty important: handling the economy.
It is going to be that, and not some ascientific exercise in personal popularity, that will determine which contender for the presidency is left standing on Nov. 7.
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