If Romney is going to win the presidential election, he’s going to have to do it without help from his personal brand. If the election were just about people’s perception of the personal qualities of the candidates, Obama would win in a landslide.
The Presidential ImagePower Survey, conducted by Landor Associates  and Penn Schoen Berland, gauges brand perceptions of the presidential candidates among 1200 adults nationwide who are likely to vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
As you can see from the table, Romney loses to Obama on every measure except for ambition, which is the only attribute tested that is not necessarily a positive. Since this is a head-to-head comparison, the scores sometimes reflect areas of weakness for Romney, sometimes areas of strength for Obama, sometimes a bit of both. These are some big gaps—40 points on charming, thirty on compassionate and passionate and over ten on everything else (except ambition).
Before the first debate, it looked like this personality perception gap would be Romney’s undoing. Even with the economy limping along, unemployment high and the deficit growing, all things that should have helped him, Romney was not making any progress in the polls. But the first debate seems to have made all the difference and the race is now neck and neck.
It’s not unheard of for presidential debates to help a challenger and give them a boost in the polls but the impact this time seems more than typically significant. Why?
The debate brought the focus back to the issues and specifically the issue of the economy where people are likely to hold the sitting president to account. And Romney was successful in pinning blame on Obama without going into great detail about how he would have done or would do any better. If Romney can’t win on character, then he must try and get people to vote based on their frustration at the current state of things and vote on the hope that he might do better.
The debate also gave Romney one more (and perhaps final) chance to introduce himself to the American public. And, this time, he took better advantage of that opportunity. He was also helped by Obama having a bad night. As the Pew Research Center’s post-debate poll  showed, Romney is now running even with the president on his overall favorability rating.
He didn’t close the gap on all personality attributes--Obama still leads in things like connecting well with people--but he moved the needle on measures like being a strong leader and having new ideas, traits that were less of a stretch based on previous perceptions.
It will be interesting to see, as we enter the final weeks of the campaign, whether Romney is able to keep the earlier perceptions of his personality shortcomings from re-emerging as an issue. But for now, he has momentum in his favor and not long to go.
[Image: Flickr user Barack Obama ]