In an excellent column over at the Daily Beast, former Prospect czar Michael Tomasky points out Mitt Romney's enormous likeability deficit, which seems to grow worse with each passing week. It's not only true impressionistically, polls back it up: Gallup recently found 60 percent of Americans saying Barack Obama is likeable, compared to only 31 percent for Romney. Tomasky does a good job of breaking down all the reasons why, and points out that the last time the candidate considered less likeable won the presidency was 44 years ago, when grumpy Dick Nixon edged smiling Hubert Humphrey. This could well be one of those interesting-but-probably-meaningless correlations, like the taller candidate always winning (which held true for many years until 2004). But given the preponderance of "gut" voting among the American people, it's likely to make a significant difference in November.
But what is it that makes a person–not a politician, but someone you meet face to face – likeable? There are some specific things you could point to: they seem genuinely interested in you, they display values similar to yours, they're modest, they're considerate, they appear happy, they have a sense of humor. Of course, there's also something ineffable, a quality that you can't define but you sense. But if we put that last part aside for the moment, we see that the definable parts of likeability are qualities that every politician has, or at least wants us to believe they have