POLITICS
08/30/2012 05:05 pm ET | Updated Aug 30, 2012

Mitt Romney Polls Find Negative Image: Can It Be Changed?

WASHINGTON -- As Mitt Romney takes the stage in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday night to accept the Republican nomination for president, the key question for many observers will be whether Romney can use his moment in the spotlight to improve his image.

Three weeks ago, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse told Politico that while the voters have largely made up their minds about President Barack Obama, "the candidate they're still trying to figure out is Mitt Romney." Newhouse saw "opportunity for movement" among those voters in "defining who Mitt Romney is."

Most public polls now show that while the vast majority of voters have formed an initial impression of the Republican nominee, more are still stumped when asked whether they have a favorable or unfavorable impression of Romney than when asked the same question about Obama.]

The HuffPost Pollster chart, which combines the favorability ratings from all public polls, shows that Obama continues to receive net positive marks -- 49.0 percent rate him favorably and 45.4 percent unfavorably -- with just over 5 percent, on average, who are unable to rate the president.

But Romney's favorable ratings are typically lower. The HuffPost Pollster chart currently shows a 41.3 percent favorable rating and a 47.6 percent unfavorable rating. Over 11 percent of those asked are unable to rate him, twice as many as those who are uncertain about Obama.

The Romney chart also shows that although more people have answered the question as his name recognition has grown significantly over the past 10 months, most of that increase has been in his unfavorable rating. Romney's favorable rating has risen only a percentage point or two since he became the de facto Republican nominee in May.

So roughly nine out of 10 voters have now formed an initial impression of Romney, with more negative reviews than positive. As ABC News noted, his current favorable rating is "the lowest of any major-party nominee at roughly the time of his convention" in the network's polls dating back to 1984. "He's the first, at this stage of the campaign, to be rated more unfavorably than favorably by a significant margin," ABC News wrote.

Below these surface impressions, however, more specific takes on Romney's image have "changed substantially" over the past year, according to a new Pew Research Center/Washington Post survey released on Wednesday.

Three times in the past year, Pew Research surveys have asked Americans to describe Romney in just one word. In October 2011, nearly half (49 percent) chose a neutral word, with "Mormon" being the most common term.

On the most recent Pew Research survey, fielded over the past week, neutral terms have fallen to just 30 percent of those offered. While only a handful now mention "Mormon," neutral terms like "businessman" and "rich" and positive terms like "honest" and "good" are now dominant.

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In particular, as the Washington Post wrote, Romney's wealth now stands out as the most mentioned subject. "In the new poll, the words 'rich,' 'wealthy,' 'greedy,' 'money' and 'millionaire' are mentioned by one in 10 people," the paper reported. "Ten months ago, 'rich' was way down on the list and the other words weren't mentioned with any frequency."

Separately, after informing respondents that Romney "has a net worth of over 200 million dollars," a new Gallup poll found that "the fact that he is rich" made no difference to three out of four registered voters. Just 20 percent said it made them less likely to vote for Romney, and 4 percent said it made them more likely.

Taken together, these results suggest that so far, Americans know Romney mainly as a wealthy businessman, conservative Republican and little more. Future surveys will show whether his convention speech and the other news surrounding the GOP convention will broaden that impression.

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