The first polls are out on Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan for running mate, and the reaction isn’t very positive. A USA Today/Gallup poll finds a plurality of Americans think Ryan is a “fair” or “poor” choice, while only 48 percent believe he’s qualified to be president.
According to Gallup, the overall evaluation is the worst since Dan Quayle’s selection in 1988, while the number believing Ryan is qualified is lower than all but Quayle and Sarah Palin in 2008 (from polling that goes back only to 1988; via Nate Silver). A Washington Post/ABC News poll found an immediate jump in Ryan’s positive ratings — but only to a lukewarm 38 percent favorable, 33 percent negative plurality. This does not appear to be a pick that’s getting immediate rave reviews from voters.
The Romney campaign told USA Today that the lousy numbers reflect mainly that Ryan isn’t well known, and that’s probably correct. It probably didn’t help that the rollout happened early on a Saturday morning during the Olympics (and the “60 Minutes” interview opposite the Olympics closing extravaganza? Who but the most intense Republican partisans are going to pick Romney/Ryan with Bob Schieffer over the Spice Girls?)
But Team Romney is wrong if it believes that low name recognition makes the polling irrelevant. It’s the opposite: Picking someone unknown — and someone who is very young and doesn’t have the conventional credentials (whether reasonable or not) for presidential nominations — is very much a potential problem for the team. Specifically, if Ryan stumbles early on, he could easily solidify a reputation as unqualified or unready for the presidency. It’s true that Ryan has one asset that neither Quayle nor Palin had: He’s well-known and generally well-liked by the political media. But then again, Quayle did have normal presidential credentials. And for what it’s worth, while Quayle was not nearly as important in Congress as Paul Ryan, he did have morelegislative accomplishments than Ryan.
At any rate, the one thing you surely don’t want to be doing after announcing your running mate is having to make the case that he’s more qualified than Dan Quayle or Sarah Palin. And if there are a couple more polls like this one, that might be where Mitt Romney will find himself.