Released: August 2, 2012
PEW RESEARCH CENTER
Romney's Personal Image Remains Negative
Obama Leads Nationwide, But Closer Race in Swing States
2012 Election Voter Preference Trends
Track voter preferences for Obama vs. Romney overall and by demographic group.
By a 52% to 37% margin, more voters say they have an unfavorable than favorable view of Mitt Romney. The poll, conducted prior to Romney’s recent overseas trip, represents the sixth consecutive survey over the past nine months in which his image has been in negative territory. While Romney’s personal favorability improved substantially between March and June – as Republican voters rallied behind him after the primary season ended– his image has again slipped over the past month.
Barack Obama’s image remains, by comparison, more positive – 50% offer a favorable assessment of the president, 45% an unfavorable one. Even so, Obama’s personal ratings are lower than most presidential candidates in recent elections.
A review of final pre-election surveys of voters since 1988 finds that all candidates enjoyed considerably higher personal ratings going into the final days of their campaigns than does Mitt Romney currently. In fact, only three, Michael Dukakis in 1988, George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Bob Dole in 1996, were not rated favorably by a majority of voters. Obama’s current ratings also are lower than the pre-election ratings of most other recent presidential candidates.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted July 16-26, 2012, among 2,508 adults, including 1,956 registered voters, finds that, in keeping with his favorability advantage, Obama continues to hold a sizable lead over Romney in the election contest. Currently, 51% say they support Obama or lean toward him, while 41% support or lean toward Romney. This is largely unchanged from earlier in July and consistent with polling over the course of this year. Across eight Pew Research Center surveys since January, Obama has led Romney by between four and 12 percentage points.
To track the presidential race over time – among all voters and among key voting blocs – see our new election interactive.
Obama holds only a four-point edge (48% to 44%) across 12 of this year’s key battleground states. While the data does not allow a state-by-state analysis, the overall balance of support in these closely contested states has remained level in recent months, with Obama slightly ahead, but neither candidate holding a significant advantage.
The relative stability of this race can be seen within most voting blocs as well. Whites have consistently favored Romney over Obama, while minority support for Obama has held relatively steady. As has been the case all year, women favor Obama by a wide margin; currently 56% of women support Obama, while 37% back Romney. Men are more evenly divided (46% Obama, 47% Romney). Obama’s support among voters under 30 remains strong (58% vs. 34% for Romney in the current survey), while voters 65 and older are divided (49% Romney vs. 45% Obama).
The battle for independent voters remains tight. The current survey finds that 45% of independents back Romney and 43% Obama, which is virtually unchanged from earlier in July. Over the course of the year, independent support has wavered, with neither candidate holding a consistent advantage.
Both candidates have nearly universal backing within their party: Nine-in-ten Democrats support Obama and an identical share of Republicans support Romney. Obama’s overall edge at this point is based on the healthy advantage in overall party identification that Democrats have enjoyed in recent years.
But it is unclear whether the Democrats’ advantage in party identification will benefit Obama on Election Day. Romney supporters continue to say they have given more thought to this election than Obama supporters – a key measure of voter engagement. This is consistent with the Pew Research Center’s June study that found that the GOP holds the early edge across a wide range of turnout indicators. (For more, see “GOP Holds Early Turnout Edge, But Little Enthusiasm for Romney,” June 21, 2012.)
Candidate Favorability in Historical Perspective
Currently, slightly more voters have a favorable (50%) than unfavorable (45%) opinion of Barack Obama. Though there are still more than three months to go before the election, Obama’s current favorability ratings compare poorly with the final pre-election ratings for previous Democratic candidates. Not since Michael Dukakis in 1988 has a Democratic candidate gone into the election with favorability ratings as low as Obama’s are today.
Romney faces a more daunting challenge, as more voters say they have an unfavorable (52%) than favorable (37%) opinion of him. The only prior presidential candidates to be viewed negatively going into the election were George H.W. Bush in October 1992 and Bob Dole in October 1996.
Whether these candidates can improve their personal images between now and Election Day remains an open question. In 2008, Barack Obama’s favorability ratings rose from summer
to fall. In 1992, Bill Clinton came out of the Democratic primaries with relatively poor favorability ratings, which improved in the run-up to the Democratic Convention in July. Clinton’s ratings slipped in October, but remained in positive territory.
But favorable ratings for some presidential candidates declined as the election approached. In 1996, Bob Dole’s favorability fell from 53% to 43% between June and October. And in July 1988, 57% of voters viewed Michael Dukakis favorably. That declined to 48% in October of that year.
Views of Candidates: Undecided Voters, Supporters and Opponents
In the new survey, 7% of registered voters say they don’t favor or lean toward Obama or Romney at this point. Neither candidate is particularly appealing to these undecided voters: More hold an unfavorable opinion of Romney than a favorable opinion by a 57% to 18% margin. And only about a third (31%) of undecided voters view Obama favorably.
This stands in stark contrast to the fall of 2008 and 2004, when undecided voters, on balance, liked both the major party candidates. Based on surveys conducted in September and October of 2008, both Obama and John McCain were viewed more favorably than unfavorably by at least two-to-one margins.
The lack of enthusiasm for the 2012 candidates reaches beyond undecided voters. Currently, 79% of Romney voters have a favorable impression of him, while 12% report an unfavorable impression. This compares with an overwhelming 97% favorability rating for George W. Bush among his supporters in the fall of 2004 and a 96% favorable rating for McCain among his supporters in the fall of 2008.
Obama voters are more positive about their candidate. Nine-in-ten voters (91%) who support Obama have a favorable impression of him, though that is down from 98% among his supporters four years ago.
Even more notable is the overwhelmingly unfavorable opinion that voters have of the candidate they are voting against. Fully 93% of Romney supporters say they have an unfavorable opinion of Barack Obama. By comparison, in the fall of 2008 just 68% of McCain voters offered an unfavorable opinion of Obama, while 29% viewed him favorably.
This pattern also is seen among Obama supporters: 84% view Romney unfavorably, compared with 70% who expressed an unfavorable opinion of McCain the fall of 2008.
About the Survey
The analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews conducted July 16-26, 2012 among a national sample of 2,508 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (1,505 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,003 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 531 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source and Universal Survey under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.
A combination of landline and cell phone random digit dial (RDD) samples were used; both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Both the landline and cell RDD samples were stratified by county based on estimated incidences of African-American and Hispanic adults, and counties with higher densities of African-American and Hispanic adults were oversampled. The final sample is weighted to correct for this disproportionate sampling. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that person was an adult 18 years of age or older. For detailed information about our survey methodology, see http://people-press.org/methodology/
The sample was divided into three racial/ethnic groups (Hispanics, non-Hispanic African Americans, and non-Hispanic whites/other race) for weighting; each group was weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, nativity (among Hispanics) and region to parameters within each racial/ethnic group from the March 2011 Current Population Survey (CPS). The combined sample was then weighted to match gender, age, race, Hispanic origin and nativity, education and region to parameters from the March 2011 CPS and to match population density to a parameter from the Decennial Census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status and relative usage of landline and cell phones (for those with both), based on extrapolations from the 2011 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the disproportionate sampling, adjusts for household size among respondents with a landline phone, and accounts for the fact that respondents with both a landline and cell phone have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample. Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance take into account the effect of weighting. The following table shows the sample sizes and the error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of confidence for different groups in the survey:
Sample sizes and sampling errors for other subgroups are available upon request.
In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.
Battleground states were identified using ratings for each state from late May to early June from: The Cook Political Report, MSNBC, The New York Times, Real Clear Politics, Karl Rove, CNN, Pollster.com, and the Washington Post. The ratings by these different groups yield 12 battleground states (rated as tossup or lean Republican or Democrat) and 39 safe states, including Washington, D.C. Battleground states are: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Solid or likely Republican states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. Solid or likely Democratic states are: California, Delaware, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.