Unlike Newt Gingrich, who can claim a regional base, Rick Santorum, who has a solidly defined political persona, or Ron Paul, who has something of a cult of personality, there’s nothing unique about Mitt Romney as a candidate. He is the definition of a generic Republican—a blank slate for the public to register its frustrations. Like Thomas Dewey—who played a similar role in the 1948 election—he is “the little man on the wedding cake.” Indeed, if there is anything close to a reason for his presidential campaign, it’s his vanilla appeal to the broad public, and undecided voters in particular.
Since the beginning of the year, however, that advantage has completely evaporated—the public has gone from slight approval of the former Massachusetts governor, to outright loathing. Talking Points Memo details the slide:
In less than two months, Romney has gone from a positive rating of +8.5—43.5 percent favorable to 35 percent unfavorable—to an astonishingly negative one of -17.4, or 31.2 percent favorable to 48.6 percent unfavorable. What’s more, this comes as his name recognition has increased; the more Americans get to know Mitt Romney, the less they like him. This, it should be said, wasn’t true of John Kerry when he ran for the presidency in 2004.
Of course, because this poll measures all voters—and not just independents—this includes some Republicans who will return to the fold if Romney becomes the nominee. But the favorability gains that come with leading a unified party aren’t enough to overcome a deficit of this size. What’s more, it will do nothing for Romney’s standing with independents, which has also collapsed in the last two months. You can also expect these numbers to get worse for the former Massachusetts governor as he moves to bury Rick Santorum under a landslide of attack ads ahead of the Michigan primary. Voters aren’t keen on constant negativity, which has become Romney’s default position as the primaries drag on.
None of this is to say that Romney is doomed if he becomes the nominee, but the situation doesn’t look good. At this point, most Americans don’t trust him to stand up for their interests, a plurality of Americans don’t like him, and independents would rather stick to President Obama. It’s true that this could all change with a crisis in Europe or a war in the Middle East, but if that’s what you’re banking on, you’re not in a good place.