The pivotal Kennedy-Nixon televised 1960 debates proved that candidate image can swing an election. More than 50 years later, the American voting public can scarcely escape well-polished images of candidates in the media, but likeability continues to be a major voting consideration.
If the election were to be held today, a July 17-23 Gallup Daily tracking showed a very close race between Romney (45%) and Obama (46%). Taking a closer look, a recent Gallup poll of voters weighed perceptions of both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama’s strengths and weaknesses. The poll revealed greater confidence in Romney’s ability to handle economic issues, but favored Obama’s general character, particularly his likeability and empathy for the average American.
Romney claimed voter confidence on the majority of issues presented in the poll including the federal budget deficit (55 to 36), economy (51 to 41), creating jobs (50 to 44), and taxes (49 to 45). Participants were evenly split on healthcare, but favored Obama on foreign affairs (52 to 40).
Obama carried voter preference on character categories such as likeability (60 to 30), “understands the problems Americans face in their daily lives” (50 to 36), and honest and trustworthy (47 to 39). But Romney leads in the “getting things done” category (46 to 41).
The economy is clearly the election’s dominant issue, with Romney’s business background vying against Obama’s record of economic stewardship in office. The poll showed that Romney’s business acumen is seen as an asset, whereas the majority of voters expressed discontent with Obama’s economic performance has not been popular among polled voters. However, Gallup surmised that even a crucial issue like the economy may still be outweighed by likeability.
“While (likeability) may not seem as important a consideration for voters as their perceptions of the candidates’ competence or their agreement with the candidates’ issue positions, the better-liked candidate on the eve of the election has won each of the last five elections,” Gallup reported. “For now, it appears as if Romney’s economic strengths and Obama’s likeability edge are offsetting one another, as voters are evenly divided in their preferences for whom they want to be the next president.”
Follow Elise Rambaud Marrion on Twitter @emarrion_cmn.