I know many conservatives bristle at the notion of “likeability” or personal “favorability” as an important campaign metric, dismissing it as a shallow consideration not worthy of news coverage.
But, the fact is, it does matter. It is not, on its own, a qualification for office, but we are human beings and we make many decisions based on whether we like or dislike others. If you don’t think it’s a boon to be likeable, imagine Ronald Reagan’s presidency with Harry Reid’s personality.
The likeability issue has probably received an outsized amount of coverage during President Obama’s four years in office because, as economic stats stalled and fell, Obama’s personal “favorability” didn’t, allowing media to crow about its preferred candidate’s appeal.
No longer. In the waning days of this election, Mitt Romney has closed the likeability gap—formerly Obama’s greatest asset— in four separate polls (three national, one battleground), rising to his highest levels of the campaign in the eyes of voters.
Fifty-four percent of likely voters in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll express a favorable opinion of Obama overall, the most basic measure of a public figure’s popularity. Yet 53 percent now see Romney favorably – a majority, remarkably, for the first time.
It’s a dramatic gain for Romney, who emerged from the Republican primaries as the least popular major party candidate in polling back to 1984 and remained there up to the debates. Just 40 percent saw him favorably as recently as late August, and it was essentially no better, 44 percent, after the party conventions.
Romney and Obama are now at parity on likability: 51 percent view Obama favorably while 50 percent view Romney favorably. Meanwhile, 45 percent of respondents view Obama unfavorably and 44 percent view Romney unfavorably.
In the Oct. 1 Politico/GWU poll, taken entirely before the first debate, Obama outdid Romney 51-46 on this measure.
In addition, the two are about equally liked by voters. Fifty-two percent have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 51 percent have a positive view of Romney.
Pittsburgh Tribune poll of Pennsylvania, which shows a 47-47 race in the Keystone state today:
Obama enjoyed wide leads in state polling during most of the race. That narrowed when Romney’s image improved as a result of the October presidential debates. Susquehanna found 48 percent of voters view Romney favorably, the first time he tied Obama on that measure. A Trib poll in September found Obama with a 47 percent favorability rating, compared with Romney’s 41 percent.
The NBC poll’s numbers on individual questions won’t come out until tonight. The race is a dead heat in four national polls and Romney has closed the likeability gap, while Democrats show signs of improving their enthusiasm numbers. Will the former offset the latter? Romney’s problems with likeability were widely seen as a large part of the reason people didn’t view him as a viable alternative to the president. He has changed his image perceptibly since the first debate, wiping out what used to be sometimes a double-digit advantage for the president.
Is it enough to push a few extra voters to the polls in Northwest Ohio and Eastern Ohio coal country, Western Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia burbs? Or, given the high numbers of early voters, did folks just learn to like Mitt a little too late?
Since we’re going anti-Eyeore in this post, let’s also give you a shot in the arm with Guy Benson’s 6 Reasons to be Optimistic this weekend.
Front-page photo credit to Nate Beeler