Democrats have made much of President Obama’s supposed advantage over Mitt Romney in “likability,” as measured in various polls. My view has been that this edge is almost entirely illusory, because 1) telling a pollster that you like Obama personally is mostly a consolation prize after having expressed disapproval of his policies, and 2) most voters who don’t obsessively follow the Republican primary process have only a vague idea of Romney, but as they see more of him, they will find him plenty likable enough.
This Gallup Poll isn’t precisely on point because it measures overall “approval” as opposed to “likability,” but it illustrates the same phenomenon. Note that Gallup has been testing Romney’s approval rating since late 2006. It has shot up since he clinched the GOP presidential nomination:
Fifty percent of Americans now have a favorable opinion of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, up from 39% in February and his highest by 10 percentage points. His current 41% unfavorable rating, though, leaves him with a net score of +9, after being at -8 in February.
Why the sudden jump?
Presidential candidates typically get a spike in their favorable ratings in the wake of winning the nomination. … Republicans and independents are fueling the rise in Romney’s favorable rating, with Democrats’ views of him unchanged. Eighty-seven percent of Republicans now view him favorably, up from 65% in February. His favorable rating among independents is 11 points higher, and independents now view Romney more positively (48%) than negatively (43%).
So Republicans who may have favored another candidate didn’t want to be fulsome in expressing their feelings about Romney to pollsters, but now that he is the nominee they are coming around. As for independents, Romney probably benefits both from being the nominee and from the fact that they are now starting to get a look at him. (It is easy to lose sight of the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans do not spend their evenings watching presidential primary debates.)
Romney is ahead of Obama in net approval in this poll, +9 to +6. Here is where I think Romney has a lot of up-side: there are still a lot of independents who have seen little of him. Many of them won’t really tune in until the fall. When they do form an impression of Romney, I think it is highly likely to be positive, as Romney comes across as reasonable, competent and likable. So I will be surprised if this comparison does not continue trending in his favor from now until the election.