Mitt Romney’s likability might not be as much of a vulnerability in the presidential election as the conventional wisdom implies, senior GOP pollsters said on Tuesday at a National Journal/The Atlantic/CBS News event at the Republican National Convention.
Polls consistently have shown President Obama with a strong advantage over Romney on the question of which candidate voters like more. But Kellyanne Conway, the founder and president of the Polling Company, Inc. and Whit Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Research, both argued that likability is more of a deciding factor in strong economic times.
Given the sluggish economy, voters are more likely to vote for the candidate they believe would be most adept at steering the country into a stronger jobs market, rather than the one they would most like to drink a beer with, the two said.
“Likability is overblown,” said Ayres. “If two-thirds of the country thinks we are going beautifully and the economy is booming -- people have work -- likability may matter a lot more.” Because two-thirds of voters believe the country is still in a recession, likability matters much less, according to Ayres.
“If you have a choice of two variables, which one would you take: 1) they trust this guy to get the economy going and turn the economy around, or 2) they think this guy is more likable. It’s a no brainer," he said. "Which one are you going to take, and that is Mitt Romney’s task is to make sure he is the one who is trusted to turn the economy around.”
Conway argued that in times of economic crisis, voters are looking for candidates they can connect with and trust to fix the problems they care about. “The more important barometer to most voters who are truly undecided is not ‘Do I like you?’ but ‘Are you like me; do we have that shared connection?” she said.
Conway said that for both Romney and Obama, establishing “that connective tissue -- I frankly think they both struggle on that one.” But Conway added that voters are more focused on which candidate they trust to achieve economic improvements.
“Now they talk about who can produce results.… People have a very seriousness of purpose, particularly these swing voters, and it’s almost purely economic,” she said.
Speaking earlier on a separate panel, Ron Kaufman, a senior Romney adviser, said he is convinced that any failure on Romney's part to be viewed as a typically outgoing politician isn't a liability for him.
“He’s really good at building relationships based on intellectual honesty.… He’s not a typical back-slapping politician. He’s not a gregarious guy on a personal level, but he is on ‘How do you solve this problem, how can we together make this better?’ and all his life he’s done that. He’s got his own style,” Kaufman said.
He also described Romney as “not a good politician in a traditional sense, which is why he is a good tea party candidate. He’s doing it his way. He’s comfortable in that, and I think the message is really going to resonate.”