Remember when liking something had to do with ice cream or 8th grade crushes? Now the word is everywhere: Facebook, teenage (and increasingly adult) conversations, and now presidential politics.
The latest CNN/ORC International poll shows that President Obama leads Mitt Romney in large part because Americans like the president more, and more American women like Obama a lot more.
The same is true for the Washington Post/ABC News poll and the CBS News/New York Times poll. Nate Silver writes a more expansive article about what likeability/favorability means in the political context and concludes that the issue is cloudy about predicting a winner in the fall. What’s clear, though, is that it’s better to be the person more people like and trust than not.
The polls do serve as warnings for Obama because despite being liked, more Americans are still not pleased with the way he’s handled the economy. The April and May jobs numbers will be key for his reelection prospects because they will either signal an ongoing positive trend of (sluggish) job creation or they’ll show a slowdown or reversal.
If the news is positive, that could create a feeling that we’re finally on the right track out of Recession Terminal and on our way to Job Construction Junction. It would also give Obama a couple of months of leeway if the numbers dip a bit during the summer. If both month’s figures are very weak or negative, that could cement in people’s minds the image that Obama just isn’t going to get it done and that maybe we should give Mitt another chance. Yes, the fall numbers will be important, but both sides would like a head start with their economic arguments before the conventions.
Other measures of the economy are turning positive and lower unemployment in the swing states could trump any negative national news. After all, if there are more jobs in Ohio, Michigan and Florida, those people will not be so concerned about what’s happening in Nevada or Arizona.
Mitt will have the more difficult road because lurking deep within his mind is a collection of embarrassing rich guy things that will surely come out of his (or his wife’s) mouth. He’ll also be in the unenviable position of endorsing lower taxes on the wealthy and cuts to social programs that even Republicans want to stick around, like Medicare, Social Security, public and higher education and health care. And Mr Businessman will need to answer for why he would have allowed tens of thousands of workers to lose their jobs rather than save General Motors, and why any president should have the power to make gas prices go up or down.