Mary Katharine Ham finds that in the waning days of this election, Mitt Romney has closed the “likeability gap,” formerly thought to be President Obama’s greatest asset, in three national polls. The polls in question are Washington Post/ABC News (Obama viewed favorably by 54 percent, Romney by 53 percent); Politico/GW (Obama 51 percent; Romney 50 percent); and Fox News (Obama 52; Romney 51).
It’s not difficult to believe that Romney has, indeed, closed the likeability gap. His sunny performances during the presidential debates provided more to like, ideology aside, than Obama’s first passive, then aggressive offerings. And Romney’s debate performances, as many have said, broke through Team Obama’s “Romney’s a bad guy” narrative. Thus, although the polls in question measure “favorability,” which is a little bit different from likeability, I suspect the outcomes for likeability would have been similar.
But what these polls really tell us, I think, is that the percentage of voters thinking seriously of voting for Obama is just about the same (a little bit north of 50 percnt) as the percentage thinking seriously of voting for Romney. I say this because once someone decides to vote for a candidate, or to seriously consider doing so, it becomes difficult psychologically to view that candidate unfavorably. Similarly, it becomes difficult to dislike the candidate. In my view, then, a favorable view of one or both candidates reflects, more than it drives, one’s voting preference.
Thus, I think the favorability polling provides less new information about the race than might meet the eye. We already knew from preference polling that roughly the same percentage of the electorate is seriously considering voting for the two candidates.
Still, Team Romney will be happy to see that “favorability” no longer favors Obama, and not just because this development confirms that Romney has pulled essentially even with Obama as a general matter. If “favorability” is a push and the economy/jobs mililtates in Romney’s favor (which most polls say is the case), that’s a plus for Romney even if the economy/jobs is a major driver of favorability.