Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman EXPLORE THE QUESTION of whether Barack Obama is “likable enough to get re-elected.”
As much as any other factor five months before Election Day, this is one that bedevils both presidential campaigns: How much can Obama count on his relatively high personal favorability ratings to buttress him against some of the worst economic and political conditions any recent incumbent president has faced?
The answer is elusive in part because the historical record is mixed on whether personal popularity can save a president. Even some Democrats suggest favorability may be only the equivalent of a tie breaker in a close race — just enough to tip voters in his direction in the far-from-certain event that everything else is deadlocked.
To the president’s team, Obama’s favorability numbers are a sign that the public hasn’t given up on the president — that the voters who flocked to his aspirational message four years ago are still very much rooting for him to succeed and willing to give him “the benefit of the doubt,” as multiple Democratic pollsters put it.
Republicans don’t dispute that high personal favorability is a nice asset for any politician. But given that Obama’s job approval numbers consistently trail his favorability ratings, there’s real skepticism in the GOP that Obama’s popularity can carry him across the finish line.
And in the eyes of the Romney campaign, voters who say that they like the president personally but disapprove of his job performance are simply rationalizing the rejection of a candidate they may have liked four years ago.
Romney, meanwhile, faces almost the opposite problem. His unfavorable ratings — some polls show them higher than his favorables — were driven up during a bloody GOP primary. As the challenger to an incumbent president, the presumptive GOP nominee is still in a race to define himself positively before the Obama campaign does so negatively.