What Romney Can Do in Tampa (in One Graph)

Here is something you don’t hear too much: voters view Mitt Romney about as favorably as Barack Obama.  At least if voters are asked about whether the candidates are knowledgeable or decent or intelligent or moral or a strong leader.  Those are important qualities, and perceptions of Romney and Obama don’t differ much.

One of Romney’s challenges, in Tampa and beyond, is to close the other gaps—ones related to empathy and whether he is “inspiring.”  It may be that doing so would not matter.  Candidates can win despite an empathy disadvantage.  Indeed, candidates can win despite a favorability disadvantage.  But if I’m Romney, I probably don’t not want to take that risk.

What are his chances of closing these gaps?  I’m going to predict: not great.  One of the findings from the YouGov surveys that Lynn Vavreck and I have been analyzing for our book on 2012—hey, have you downloaded the first two chapters yet?—is that Romney’s empathy gap has been in place at least since early January 2012.  And, moreover, it hasn’t closed.  In fact, it may have grown slightly: Romney lagged Obama by 9 points in January, 10 points in April, 11 points in July, and 14 points in this August survey—using the same kinds of percentages as in the graph above.

It may be that Romney’s best bet is not to use the convention to make himself seem warmer and fuzzier, but to try to make character traits other than empathy more salient to voters, or else focus the election more on Obama than on himself.  As of now, it looks as if the latter might be his answer.

[Cross-posted at Model Politics.]

3 Responses to What Romney Can Do in Tampa (in One Graph)

  1. Andrew Sprung August 28, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    I think it’s interesting that Romney has a “strong leader” edge. Ever since the Aug 2011 budget debacle, my sense has been that people fault Obama for caving. The electorate approves of his economic policies but disapproves of his economic performance. I think that’s because he was perceived to have let himself get rolled by the GOP in the debt ceiling debate. I might have hoped that winning two fights over the payroll tax cut — and letting the sequester happen — might have helped erase that perception, but maybe not entirely.
    Odd, too, that Obama can get high marks for foreign policy but low marks for “strong leader.”

  2. Paul August 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    I wonder if part of Romney’s “strong leader” edge may be due to his bellicose approach to foreign policy. When pols favor draconian sentencing for crimes, they are said to be “tough on crime” whereas those who disagree risk being tarred as “soft on crime.”

    By the same token, It doesn’t seem too unreasonable that some of the electorate would compare Romney’s threats against China and Iran to Obama’s more measured approach and conclude that Romney is a “stronger” leader.

  3. brbr2424 August 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    I’m surprised Romney beats out Obama on Moral and Strong Leader. Mitt is the guy who assaulted a kid who looked different and tormented a sight impaired disabled teacher mercilessly. He pillaged and looted companies, leaving creditors, the state and federal governments and the employees holding the bag. He will also say absolutely anything to get elected. He went from giving an impassioned and believable speech on why abortion must be safe and legal to supporting a personhood amendment to the constitution criminalizing abortion in all cases. He doesn’t score an morality points in my book.

    He also has poor leadership skills. He wouldn’t even take the risk to venture out to start the Bain division unless he was thoroughly indemnified against failure. He cannot stand up to a single person in his party including hayseed talk radio hosts. He is a zombie follower, not a leader.