Former Mass. governor Mitt Romney no longer faces a basic question that undercut his candidacy four years ago -- the threshold issue of electability. In the fall of 2007, more people said they definitely would not vote for him in a general election than would consider him, but those numbers have now flipped in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Romney has matched up competitively against President Obama among voters in Washington Post-ABC News polls throughout 2011, and in the new poll he tops Texas governor Rick Perry, 51 percent to 31 percent among Republicans, as the candidate with the better chance to unseat the president.
The warming toward Romney since his failed 2008 campaign has been broad based. Four years ago, more than a third of Republicans said they would not vote for him. That resistance in his base has melted to just 7 percent. There have been similar declines among conservatives overall and conservative Republicans. Even among white evangelical Protestants, a core Republican group that’s held negative views of Mormons in the past, just 20 percent say they would refuse to vote for Romney (one of two Mormon candidates). Four years ago, 44 percent in that group said they would not vote for him.
For his part, Rick Perry’s electability is less firmly established. Fewer than half of all Americans – 48 percent – would consider or definitely vote for the Texas governor with 44 percent certain to not vote for him. That’s about the same number ruling out Obama (46 percent “definitely not”). Obama does have a bare majority at least considering voting for him.
The seven-point gap between Romney and Perry on “definitely would not” vote is wider among some key groups. A third of senior citizens rule out Romney, whereas 46 percent wouldn’t vote for Perry. Among independents 34 percent rule out Romney, but that rises to 46 percent for Perry. The gap is wide in the West too, where 51 percent rule out voting for Perry. That slides to 38 percent ruling out Romney.
The good news for Romney on these positive “electability” numbers is blunted somewhat by the fact that nearly three-quarters of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents say it is more important to support a GOP candidate they agree with most on the issues rather than the person most likely to win in 2012. Romney still edges out other announced candidates among those voters.