Does Obama's "likability" factor matter?

President Obama speaks at the White House Forum on Women and the Economy April 6, 2012, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington.
AP Photo
President Obama speaks at the White House Forum on Women and the Economy April 6, 2012, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington.
AP Photo

(CBS News) If President Obama has any advantage heading into the general election, it's that people like him more than Mitt Romney.

The polls show that voters view the president more favorably than Romney and find him more relatable. The president has played up that positive image, squeezing in a "slow jamming the news" segment and other fun appearances between speeches on student loans.

The president's likability factor could be a problem for Romney and the Republican party if voters like him enough to look past their disappointments in his performance. A series of focus groups conducted by the Republican polling firm Resurgent Republic illustrated that issue. One of the main points to come out of the focus groups, the firm said today, was that independent voters who backed Mr. Obama in 2008 but are currently undecided still feel personally invested in the president.

"They want President Obama to succeed. They still have personal admiration for him," GOP pollster Whit Ayres said. "Most of the phrases they used [in the focus groups] revolved around personal characteristics, [like] 'he's a great father.'"

But if Mr. Obama's likability factor is a problem for the GOP, it is one that's not that hard to overcome, Republicans say. For one thing, the pollsters at Resurgent Republic point out, Mr. Obama will have to defend his personal appeal from here on out, now that the general election is underway.

Now that the GOP primary is essentially over, the Karl Rove-linked group American Crossroads has launched its newest attack against Mr. Obama, making fun of his "coolness" factor. Attacks like that will underscore the point that the president may be likable, but he may not be capable.

"People liked Jimmy Carter," former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said, as part of Resurgent Republic's presentation of its new research. "People thought he was a good man, a good person -- certainly, Reagan was likable, but the point is just because they think someone's a good person doesn't mean they'll vote for him."

The president could be especially vulnerable to this argument given that nearly four in 10 voters think that if Mr. Obama is re-elected, his policies would make their own financial situation worse.

Barbour added that voters will see through Mr. Obama's campaign rhetoric, which is focused on making the election a "choice" between Mr. Obama and Romney, rather than a referendum on the president.

"Democrats say this won't be a referendum on Obama," Barbour said. "It'll be a choice -- the choice is that slimy, mean, dirty, greedy, cheatin', lying Republican, or Prince Charming."

However, he continued, "A lot of people sense that when the incumbent has to make the campaign about his opponent, it's because the incumbent has a failed record he can't run on."

The Resurgent Republic pollsters said voters have yet to give the campaign their full attention, so they're not familiar with the president's record.

"The more facts they know, the less likely they are to be for Obama," Barbour said. "Republicans will want to make that the centerpiece of the campaign -- how his policies have actually made [the economy] worse."