If Romney can improve, Obama can stumble. His favorability rating was nearly matched by John Kerry's at about this point in 2004 and Mike Dukakis' in 1988 -- yet both faded and went on to lose. On the other hand, Obama's rating now also was approximately matched by two incumbents who went on to win re-election, Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Clinton in 1996.
One bit of Romney's baggage is the public's negative assessment of the nominating process from which he's emerging. Thirty-two percent of Americans rate "the Republican primaries" as a whole favorably; 56 percent, unfavorably.
GROUPS – Romney's difficulties extend beyond his gender and enthusiasm gaps. Among independents, the usual swing voters in presidential elections, he's underwater by 34-47 percent, favorable-unfavorable. And perhaps reflecting the hard-fought Republican campaign, a fairly tepid 69 percent of Republicans see him favorably – up, however, by 11 points since mid-March.
These compare to a 53-42 percent positive rating for Obama among independents, and an 86 percent favorable score in his own party, 17 points better than Romney's in his.
Similarly, Romney's rated favorably by just 30 percent of moderates, vs. Obama's 63 percent in this group. And Romney's 57 percent positive rating among conservatives compares with Obama's 77 percent among liberals.
There also are broad gaps among racial, income and age groups, and by marital status:
Favorable ratings of Obama and Romney are about the same among whites -- 43 and 42 percent, respectively -- while Obama's unfavorable score is 9 points higher than Romney's in this group. The turnaround occurs among nonwhites, who rate Obama favorably by a vast 82-15 percent, compared with Romney's 21-54 percent. A quarter of nonwhites have yet to form an opinion of Romney either way.
Obama has a 29-point advantage in favorability over Romney among Americans with household incomes less than $50,000 a year; this shrinks to a 7-point difference among those with $50,000-plus incomes.
Favorable views of Obama are 36 points higher than Romney's among adults younger than 40; that eases to a 17-point gap among the middle aged and an essentially even 2-point split (in Romney's direction) among seniors.
Obama's favorable score is 9 points higher than Romney's among married adults – but this swells to a 37-point advantage among those who are not married. Romney and Obama are seen favorably by about equal numbers of married men, and Obama's unfavorable score is higher in this group. But he jumps to a 20-point higher favorable rating than Romney among married women, 25 points among unmarried men, and 45 points among unmarried women.
There's an education difference as well, specifically among whites. Romney's favorability rating is about the same among whites regardless of whether they have finished college or not -- 43 and 41 percent, respectively. Obama's is similar among non-college whites, 38 percent. But among whites with a college degree, Obama advances to 52 percent favorability.
While Romney's ratings have been largely stable since fall, Obama's, as noted, have improved, especially among some specific groups. Since hitting his presidential career-low 47 percent in September, his favorability rating has gained 17 points among under-30s and singles alike, 16 points among moderates, 15 points among Hispanics and 11 points among independents. He's also gained 8 points among Democrats, while his rating among Republicans hasn't changed.
In addition to the economy, Obama's benefitted from a greater personal connection with most Americans on a range of measures. In last week's ABC/Post poll he led Romney by 38 points in being seen as more friendly and likeable, by 26 points as more inspiring and by 12 points as better understanding the economic problems most Americans are having.
These views have arisen in the midst of two dynamics -- one, the contentious Republican primaries, the other, improving public ratings of economic conditions. The former are all but over, a change that should be welcome for Romney. The latter remains to be seen -- with the economy's direction as critical in the six months ahead as it's been in the six just past.
ABC News polls can be found at ABCNEWS.com at http://abcnews.com/pollingunit.
Read the PDF of the full analysis here.