The most sensible takeaways, I think, are as follows:
1) Mr. Romney’s mediocre favorability ratings at this early stage of the race are no death sentence. There have been clear reversals in favorability ratings in the recent past once the general election campaign got under way, such as in 1988 and 1992. At least one recent candidate (Mr. Clinton in 1992) won his election with similarly mediocre early favorability ratings. With that said, it would be foolish to suggest that this makes no difference at all. Mr. Romney would prefer to have a positive rating than a negative one. For that matter, Mr. Obama would prefer to have a clearly positive favorability rating than break-even numbers.
2) The favorability deficit between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama is more likely to be meaningful the longer it persists. If, for instance, we still see this favorability deficit in July — and certainly if we see it in September or October — the odds are fairly good that Mr. Obama will perform more strongly than the economic fundamentals alone would dictate and could win an election that he is otherwise “supposed” to lose. Of course, this will probably be reflected in head-to-head polls between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, which also become stronger predictors of the election outcome as November draws nearer.