Mitt Romney Held Back by Likability Factor

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mitt romney naacp photo

Mitt Romney being booed at the NAACP convention

As the U.S. economy continues to slide and the unemployment rate hovers much too high, political scientists are beginning to wonder why President Obama’s poll numbers continue to remain on solid ground—though Mitt Romney has been gaining ground of late. Their answer? Voters just like the president much more than they like Romney.

In fact, Romney even scores better than President Obama on issues the voters say they care more about—namely the economy—and Romney gets the edge over Obama on creating jobs, handling taxes and lowering the deficit.

But it has always been a conventional wisdom of presidential politics that voters would rather vote for the candidate they think they would enjoy cracking open a beer with. That’s clearly Obama, who beats Romney on the general favorability rating by 54 to 46 percent. On the question of likability, two thirds of voters surveyed said they personally liked the president, while just 47 percent said they liked Romney, a huge gap of 20 percent.

In addition, about 50 percent of voters say Romney better understands the challenges Americans face in their daily lives, while just 39 percent say Romney better understands.

“Basically, it looks like Romney’s personality is holding him back and Obama’s likability is helping him,” Jeffrey M. Jones, managing editor for Gallup Poll, said that. “It seems frivolous, but it matters.”

In the last five elections, the favorability rating has predicted which candidate would win—including in 2000, when Al Gore and George Bush basically were tied in favorability.

However, Morris Fiorina, a political scientist at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, is not a believer in the favorability theory, calling it “a lot of noise.”

“It’s always better to be liked than not liked,” Fiorina said. “But it won’t save you.”

Fiorina said the economy will prove to be the deciding factor in the end.

“My mechanic might be a peach of a guy,” he said, “but if he doesn’t find out what’s wrong with the car, I go somewhere else.”