PRINCETON, NJ -- Soon-to-be-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is about as well-liked as he has been during the presidential campaign, with 48% of Americans holding a favorable view of him and 46% an unfavorable view. His image was only slightly more positive in May -- about the time he clinched the Republican nomination. As recently as mid-July, significantly more Americans viewed him unfavorably than favorably.
Romney's improved image could benefit him as he takes the stage at the Republican National Convention Thursday night. However, Romney still gets a lower favorability rating than President Barack Obama, 53% to 48%, in the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Aug. 20-22. While this gap is down from his double-digit favorability deficits against Obama at times over the past year, any deficit in favorability could be an obstacle to victory for Romney, and thus will be important for him to try to rectify via this week's convention or during the fall campaign.
Romney Lags Behind Obama on Character Ratings
Favorable ratings reflect Americans' broad reactions to a candidate, encompassing a variety of factors about the candidate as a person and leader. However, a separate Gallup measure of Romney and Obama in June on specific characteristics also found Romney lagging significantly in terms of being "likable." Eight in 10 Americans at the time, 81%, said this trait applies to Obama, compared with 64% who said it applies to Romney. And when asked in the latest poll to say which of the two candidates is more likable, Americans chose Obama over Romney by 54% to 31%. That 23-point deficit, wide as it is, is actually an improvement for Romney compared with earlier in the year.
Obama also holds solid leads over Romney as the better candidate on a number of personal dimensions. Romney does no better than tie Obama in terms of being the candidate who Americans say can more effectively manage the government. This parity could disappoint Romney supporters, who may envision this as a core strength for Romney, given his business and gubernatorial background.
Romney Holds Advantage on Economic Issues
Romney, however, in the same poll, did better compared with Obama on two economic issues. Romney is significantly more likely to be perceived as the better candidate to handle the federal budget deficit and holds a lead on the economy. At the same time, Obama holds strong leads on foreign affairs, energy, and Medicare, as well as modest leads on taxes and healthcare.
The economy also emerged as a Romney strength in Americans' open-ended responses in June when Gallup asked them why they were voting for either Romney or Obama for president. The poll found 26% of Romney's voters citing his position on the economy as the top reason they are voting for him -- rivaled only by the 28% who said it is because they want Obama out of office. Less than half as many Obama voters, 10%, mentioned the economy as the key reason they are supporting him.
Similarly, by 9% to 2%, respectively, more Romney than Obama voters cite job creation as their top reason for supporting their candidate. The federal budget deficit is also a bigger issue for Romney voters, 5% vs. 1%.
While Obama voters don't mention "likability" per se as the main reason they back him, 10% mention dislike of the other candidate, compared with the 3% of Romney voters who say this.
Nearly one in five Americans, 18%, say they would not support a Mormon for president -- a sentiment that has been remarkably constant since George Romney was running for president in 1967. And while many of those who object to a Mormon president are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents who would not be expected to vote for Romney in any case, 10% of Republicans also say they would not vote for a Mormon. That contrasts with just 6% of Republican voters who are currently not backing Romney in the latest head-to-head ballot. However, a third of Republicans in June -- and more than 4 in 10 Americans, overall -- did not correctly identify Romney's religion as Mormonism at that time, indicating that if more do become aware, he could lose still more support over it.
Although Mormons constitute only about 2% of the U.S. population, they overwhelmingly support Romney's candidacy this year.
Romney's Wealth and Tax Filings an Issue for Some
While most Americans say Romney's personal wealth does not affect their chance of voting for him, 20% say it makes them less likely to support him, including 19% of independents.
On a related topic, just over half of Americans think Romney should release more than two years' worth of his personal tax returns, as the Obama campaign has called for.
While relatively few, 15%, think those returns will indicate Romney is unfit to be president, 44% believe they contain information that is legitimate for voters to know.
Though the Obama campaign has tried to portray Romney's big-business background as a weakness, at least as of July Americans perceived it to be a strength, with 63% saying it would help him make good decisions about the economy, compared with 29% who said bad decisions.
Highly Religious Voters, Whites, Older Americans, Men Among Romney's Base
American politics today is highly differentiated across demographic lines, divisions that are reflected in support for Romney vs. Obama for president. Highly religious voters, whites, older Americans, those who are married, men, and Southerners disproportionately support Romney, similar on a relative basis to their support for John McCain when he was the Republican candidate running against Obama in the 2008 election. Obama defeated McCain by seven percentage points in 2008, while at this point in the 2012 election, Romney and Obama are essentially tied among registered voters.
As Romney prepares to make his GOP presidential nomination acceptance speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, a review of the public's attitudes toward the former Massachusetts governor demonstrates a wide range of strengths and weaknesses that he takes into the convention phase of the campaign. Romney clearly comes up short against Obama in terms of his personal image, including views of the two candidates' "likability" and overall favorable ratings. On the other hand, Romney has a clear edge as the candidate better able to handle the economy -- Americans' consensus choice as the most important problem facing the country.
All in all, despite these differences, the two candidates headed into the conventions neck-and-neck in Gallup's trial heat tracking. According to historical patterns, Romney can expect to see a bounce from his convention this week, as should Obama from his convention next week. Thus, the key statistic will be the two candidates' standing when the dust from the conventions settles in mid-September.
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Gallup surveys 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, every day and conducts additional surveys. In most cases, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 to ±4 percentage points. For detailed survey methods on any results reported here, please visit the original story.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.