Mitt Romney’s favorability has been severely damaged by the GOP primary contest, but it sure seems like a lot of people who dislike the guy want to vote for him anyway. In fact, things haven’t really changed that much in terms of the big picture over the past few months:

Perhaps the theory that the Republican primary race is destroying Romney’s chances has been a bit overstated? I do think that there are reasons to think Romney will underperform this year. His endorsement of the Ryan Plan will give Obama an easy club to beat him with, one that will really hurt among indy voter types. He’s been incredibly hamfisted and inept when it comes to talking about his tax arrangements and how he made his money, plus chestnuts like “I won’t apologize for being successful!” and “Don’t put free enterprise on trial!” are just not going to be that powerful outside of Republican audiences. And his hardline immigration stance reduced Newt Gingrich to a pile of goo last week will insure he’ll only get a token amount of Hispanic support in November. This is all true. But it’s important to remember that Romney is (correctly) perceived as a credible possible president by the media and the public. This is not the case with, say, Newt Gingrich, who has similar favorability but does far worse in head-to-head polls. It really does seem clear that the “Not Obama” candidate is going to do pretty well, so long as he meets a certain plausibility threshold. As all the models say, I suppose.

Not that anything is set in stone–I’m sure that if the economy improves a bit, some of those “Not Obama” voters will drop off, and Romney’s electoral support will be closer to the public’s views of the candidate himself. But it’s important to note that Romney’s strength at this point isn’t being Mr. Popularity. In fact, if the economy doesn’t improve, he doesn’t really have much of an incentive not to be a complete prick this year.

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