Overall, the head-to-head polls have moved little since the end of June. Obama holds a small but hardly comfortable lead. But the evidence that Romney has been hurt nonetheless came late last week in a poll by the Pew Research Center. Pew found that voters have a more negative impression of the GOP presidential candidate than they did only a month earlier.
Romney’s image has long been a problem, dating back to the nomination contest. As he fought off one after another of his rivals, and as they went after him, the public saw him in increasingly negative terms, despite the fact that he was winning.
That can happen in a tough primary campaign, which is why political parties like to get those fights over long before the general election. But Romney’s negatives were surprisingly high for a presumptive nominee. Then, from March to early summer, Romney was on the upswing. In the Pew Center’s research, the percentage of voters who rated him favorably rose from 29 percent to 41 percent.
In July he went backward. Negative impressions now outweigh positive impressions by 15 percentage points — 52 to 37 percent. A month ago, the difference was just six points. The poll was completed just as Romney’s foreign trip was starting.
The newest numbers put Romney among the worst-rated presidential nominees in the past seven elections. His low numbers were in the same range as 1996 GOP nominee Bob Dole and those of President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Both lost their races those years.
Counting on core voters
Romney is above 50 percent positive in the Pew findings with only two groups: Republicans and white evangelical Protestants. He is at 32 percent favorable among women; 38 percent with college graduates; and just 40 percent among those with incomes above $75,000. Among independents, he is at 41 percent positive.
Romney advisers say the deterioration between June and July is mostly with people who were not going to vote for Romney anyway, which they say worries them less than if they were losing ground again with their core voters. They argue that Obama threw tens of millions of dollars worth of ads at Romney on Bain Capital, outsourcing and tax returns and that it didn’t dramatically change the race.
That still leaves Romney with historically low personal-image numbers as he heads toward the fall. Maybe that matters less than it once did, but it’s hardly an ideal situation for the challenger.
It’s worth noting that Obama’s ratings are far below their 2008 levels. In October 2008, his positive ratings were 40 points higher than his negative ratings. In the latest Pew survey, he is still in positive territory but by only five percentage points — 50 to 45 percent. But Romney is in far worse shape after the pounding he’s taken over Bain, his tax returns and other issues.