Mitt Romney’s middling likeability ratings have provoked a deluge of analysis about whether this weakness is fatal and advice on how he can overcome the likeability gap between him and President Obama. But there’s no reason to think Romney’s likeability ratings at this point in the election are any predictor of his success next November, or even a sure sign of what his likeability ratings will be later in the election season.
As Nate Silver finds, low initial personal favorables haven’t doomed past presidents, and Romney’s numbers are on par with Bill Clinton’s at the same point of the race in 1992:
1) Mr. Romney’s mediocre favorability ratings at this early stage of the race are no death sentence. There have been clear reversals in favorability ratings in the recent past once the general election campaign got under way, such as in 1988 and 1992. At least one recent candidate (Mr. Clinton in 1992) won his election with similarly mediocre early favorability ratings. …
2) The favorability deficit between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama is more likely to be meaningful the longer it persists. If, for instance, we still see this favorability deficit in July — and certainly if we see it in September or October — the odds are fairly good that Mr. Obama will perform more strongly than the economic fundamentals alone would dictate and could win an election that he is otherwise “supposed” to lose.
It sounds like Romney’s advisers are of the same opinion, according to the Boston Globe (via Playbook):
“Rather than emphasize his personality, advisers to Romney are running a campaign focusing on the candidate’s competence and managerial skills. … ‘In today’s modern world, a profile in People magazine is a hell of a lot more important than what’s in the Washington Post,‘ said Dave Carney, a Republican consultant. … ‘Voters really don’t know Governor Romney yet,’ said Andrea Saul, the campaign’s press secretary. ‘These are superficial first impressions at best.’ … ‘Different politicians have different strengths … ,’ said Henry Barbour, a Romney supporter and Republican National Committee member from Mississippi. … ‘The thing about Romney, he can get the job done … America has tried likeability and celebrity.’”
Definitely the best move. There’s no point in dwelling on something Romney can’t change. Trying to force Romney to fit some political consultant’s checklist of what makes a candidate likeable is hopeless, because he already is some political consultant’s checklist of what makes a candidate likeable. Telling him he doesn’t connect won’t do any good, because he already knows that and has probably had a lab of scientists working on it for the last three years.
Romney should forget likeability for the time being. If he wants to win public respect, he won’t do it by pandering.