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 The Monkey Cage]