PRINCETON, NJ -- Majorities of Americans hold generally favorable views of President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, using Gallup's historical 10-point "scalometer" question. In the poll, conducted Oct. 27-28 -- before Hurricane Sandy struck the Eastern seaboard -- 62% of national adults rated Obama positively and 55% rated Romney that way. Among registered voters, it was slightly closer: 60% for Obama and 56% for Romney.
Gallup's scalometer rating involves asking respondents to use a 10-point scale, ranging from +5 at the high end to -5 at the low end (and no neutral "0" score), to say how favorably or unfavorably they view each candidate. Gallup relied on this question routinely from 1956 to 1991 to measure public reaction to major national figures, and has since used it occasionally. From 1992 to the present, Gallup has measured Americans' views of candidates, using a binary favorable/unfavorable format. In mid-October, Obama and Romney had similar ratings using this favorable rating format.
This is Gallup's first scalometer rating for Romney, but the fourth for Obama, including one rating for every year since 2008, except 2010. Despite several changes in Obama's job approval rating over this time, his favorable rating among national adults has been fairly steady, with roughly to 60% viewing him favorably and 40% unfavorably. Also, the percentages viewing him highly favorably (rating him a +5 or +4) versus highly unfavorably (-5 or -4) have held steady, except for the 2011 reading, when comparatively fewer viewed him highly favorably.
Obama's Favorability Matches George W. Bush's in 2004
Obama's and Romney's current ratings can also be compared with those of presidential candidates from the 1960 through 1992 elections, as well as the 2004 and 2008 elections. Gallup did not measure favorability toward the 1996 and 2000 candidates using the scalometer format. One caveat in drawing conclusions from these comparisons is that in earlier years, particularly prior to 1980, there appears to have been a tendency for scalometer scores to reach much higher than they have more recently -- possibly due to increased political polarization over time.
With 62% of Americans rating Obama between +1 and +5 and 38% rating him between -1 and -5, he has a net favorable score of +24. This is similar to Obama's +27 net favorable score toward the end of the 2008 campaign. In comparison with recent incumbents seeking a second term, Obama's current rating is most similar to George W. Bush's +22 net favorable score in 2004 -- and of course Bush won. It is better than George H. W. Bush's +19 score in 1992, though it is lower than Ronald Reagan's +39 in 1984.
Romney's current +12 scalometer score is lower than Obama's, but also lower than those of recent presidential challengers, including John Kerry in 2004 (+17), Bill Clinton in 1992 (+31), and Walter Mondale in 1984 (+28).
Scalometer Scores Are Not Destiny
While there is some correspondence between scalometer ratings and election outcomes, it is far from perfect. Across the 10 prior presidential elections for which Gallup has candidate scalometer ratings, the candidate with the higher net favorable score won in six of these: George W. Bush in 2004, Reagan in 1984, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Richard Nixon in 1972, Nixon in 1968, and Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The candidates with the higher or highest favorable scores did not win in three elections: 1992 (third-party candidate Ross Perot), Carter in 1980, and Nixon in 1960. In 2008, Obama and John McCain were about tied in favorability, yet Obama won by a substantial margin.
This is in contrast to Gallup's post-1992 binary favorable/unfavorable measure, which does seem more predictive of election outcomes.
Majorities of Americans view both Obama and Romney in favorable rather than unfavorable terms. That is typical for Gallup's scalometer measure of favorability, although there have been rare exceptions. Obama is rated slightly more positively than Romney, giving him a possible advantage in the election.
However, Gallup trends indicate that the candidate with the higher scalometer score does not always win. Furthermore, Obama's edge over Romney in favorability is reduced among registered voters, and could be further reduced among likely voters, erasing any possible advantage to him in the election.
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Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking Oct. 27-28, 2012, with a random sample of 1,063 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 961 registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 250 cell phone respondents and 250 landline respondents per 500 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, population density, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized U.S. population. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.