Obama’s Popularity Dips Underwater; For Romney, a Faint Favorability Bounce

By Gary Langer

Sep 4, 2012 6:30pm
ap obama ohio jp 120903 wblog Obamas Popularity Dips Underwater; For Romney, a Faint Favorability Bounce

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Barack Obama approaches his nomination for a second term with the lowest pre-convention personal popularity of an incumbent president in ABC News/Washington Post polls since the 1980s. He’s also at his lowest of the year among registered voters, with trouble among women.

Just 47 percent of registered voters in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll see Obama favorably overall, down 7 percentage points from his recent peak in April, while 49 percent rate him unfavorably. He’s numerically underwater in this group for the first time since February.

See PDF with full results, charts and tables here.

The decline has occurred entirely among women registered voters – from 57-39 percent favorable-unfavorable in April to a numerically negative 46-50 percent now. That’s Obama’s lowest score among women voters – a focus of recent political positioning – in ABC/Post polls since he took office. Unusually, his rating among men, 50-47 percent favorable-unfavorable, is numerically better than it is among women, albeit not by a significant margin.

The result is not the only sign of the work ahead for Obama among women. In a separate ABC/Post poll last week, he led Romney among women registered voters in vote preference by just 6 points, 49-43 percent. In 2008, Obama won women by 13 points, 56-43 percent.

As if misery loves company, Mitt Romney’s favorability rating remains numerically lower even than Obama’s in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. Nonetheless Romney does show a faint convention bounce, a 5-point gain in favorability among all adults vs. a week ago. (Gallup, separately, today reported no bounce for Romney in the horse race, a different measurement than favorability.)

Among all Americans, 40 percent now see Romney favorably, 47 percent unfavorably – better than last week’s 35-51 percent, albeit still underwater. Among registered voters, though, the change from last week is too slight to reach statistical significance – a scant +3 points favorable, -3 unfavorable, from 40-51 percent then to 43-48 percent now. (Registered voters divided evenly on Romney, 44-44 percent, in May.)

WATCH: George Stephanopoulos discusses the favorability ratings of Obama, Romney.

Notably, Romney’s gap vs. Obama is far closer now than last spring – then a 14-point advantage for Obama in favorable ratings among registered voters, today a scant 4 points.

Romney notched a slight 7-point gain in favorability among women from last week to this, to 41-48 percent, favorable-unfavorable. (Partisan preferences among women are very similar in these polls – Democrat-Republican-independent, 38-27-32 percent last week, 37-28-31 percent this week.)

The length and depth of the public’s economic discontent provides the context for voter attitudes. As Obama’s favorability has lost ground since spring, so has consumer confidence. And given persistently high unemployment and a range of related woes, 69 percent in an ABC/Post poll last week said the country was seriously off on the wrong track.

In addition to the drop among women, one other result stands out in evaluating the change for Obama since April: His favorable rating has lost 13 points among Republicans, from 20 percent then to a mere 7 percent now.

Romney, for his part, has solidified his popularity in some core Republican groups. Eighty-nine percent of Republicans now see Romney favorably overall, as do 78 percent of “very” conservatives, both new highs for Romney this cycle. (Among “somewhat” conservatives, fewer, 61 percent, see Romney favorably.)

Obama continues to do considerably better than Romney among moderates – 57-40 percent favorable-unfavorable for the president, vs. 36-54 percent for his challenger. Both are struggling among independents – often swing voters, and the predominant political group in recent years. They see Obama more unfavorably than favorably by a scant 6-point margin; Romney, by 17.

HISTORY – Favorable ratings of some candidates have moved considerably in measurements taken before or after conventions in past years. Using available ABC/Post favorability ratings from before either party’s convention in previous cycles, Obama’s rating is lower than George W. Bush’s in 2004 (54 percent), Bill Clinton’s in 1996 (56 percent) and George H.W. Bush’s in 1992 (57 percent). The available measurement for Ronald Reagan, 60 percent favorable, was taken two weeks after his 1984 convention.

Romney’s favorability rating last week was the lowest of any major-party nominee using the same, pre-convention data. Using post-convention measurements, however, he’s now ahead (at least numerically) of some previous candidates, including John Kerry and George H.W. Bush.

METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cell phone Aug. 29-Sept. 2, 2012, among a random national sample of 1,022 adults and 842 registered voters. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points for the full sample and 4 points for the sample of registered voters, including design effect. The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS/Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pa.

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