Continued from page 1

Whatever the image Mr. Obama projects, it has kept his personal ratings with voters consistently higher than the ratings they give him on how he is doing his job.

Pulling punches

That may be why speakers at last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., were careful to mute their criticism of the president. Instead of blasting him, most speakers expressed more sorrow than fury about Mr. Obama, and those who did stuck to criticism of his job performance.

“Barack Obama’s failed us. But look, it’s understandable. A lot of people fail at their first job,” former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in one of the convention’s harder-hitting speeches.

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, said the challenge for Democrats at their convention will be to build on the president’s likability with success stories from his first term in office, such as the assassination of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

“Democrats need to find a way to market their candidate other than by attacking Romney,” the former congressman from Colorado said. “I would imagine you’ll hear a lot of bin Laden. Otherwise, all they’ve got is, ‘Romney’s rich, Romney’s terrible, Romney’s a Mormon,’ and I don’t know if that’s enough to win the day.”

A Gallup poll released Aug. 24, a few days before the Republican National Convention, showed Mr. Obama continuing to lead Mr. Romney on a host of positive personal traits, starting with being “likable.” Of those polled, 54 percent agreed that Mr. Obama was “likable,” compared with 31 percent for Mr. Romney.

At the same time, the Gallup survey noted that the president’s likability edge has narrowed as Mr. Romney has become better known to the electorate. Some 63 percent of those polled called Mr. Obama “likable” in May, while Mr. Romney’s likability had increased slightly, the Gallup survey found.

“Barack Obama retains a significant edge over Mitt Romney on personal dimensions, particularly in terms of his ‘likability,’ while Americans still believe Romney is better able to handle the economy,” the poll analysis said.

Mr. Romney improved his own likability in the aftermath of the convention. A Reuters/Ipsos rolling poll conducted from Aug. 27 through Friday found that the Republican nominee’s likability climbed from 26 percent to 31 percent. Mr. Obama’s remained at 48 percent during the same period.

“The Republicans had the task at the convention of making their candidate more palatable, likable to the American electorate,” Ipsos pollster Julia Clark told Reuters. “Our data suggests they have absolutely succeeded.”

History shows the likable candidate emerges as the victor more often than not. The most recent example was the election of 2004, when Mr. Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat who consistently received lower scores on the likability index.

Republican Ronald Reagan clobbered Democratic opponent Walter F. Mondale both on Election Day and in terms of likability in 1984, but Mr. Reagan also had the advantage of a robust economy. Ditto Democrat Mr. Clinton, who was seen as far more likable than Republican Bob Dole in the 1996 election, but also could point to a booming private sector.

This year’s election will test whether a likable president can emerge victorious in a down economy. Republicans are betting that he can’t, in part because his likability may have been oversold by the polls.

“I would say the polls generally oversample Democrats, and therefore, they’re a little bit skewed,” said Mr. Tancredo. “But if it’s true, if Obama really is liked as much as people say, then that can go a long way toward overcoming the economic doldrums people feel.”