Obama, Romney Intensity Scores Similar

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Though Obama generates much stronger opinion overall

PRINCETON, NJ -- Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have similar intensity scores among national adults, of -3 and -1, respectively. All of the major presidential candidates' scores are in negative territory, meaning more Americans who recognize each candidate have a strongly negative than a strongly positive opinion of him.

On balance, Romney and Obama fare as well as or better than the remaining presidential candidates. Jon Huntsman, who withdrew from the race after this polling was conducted, also had one of the better scores, at -2.

Intensity Scores of Major Presidential Candidates

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Gallup's Jan. 12-15 update on this measure is the second to assess Positive Intensity Scores of all major presidential candidates among the national adult population, with the first measurement in mid-December. Gallup had tracked Republicans' opinions of the major Republican candidates from February through November 2011.

Two major changes occurred in Positive Intensity Scores among national adults since last month's initial assessment. Americans have become more intensely negative in their evaluations of Newt Gingrich (from a score of -11 to -20) -- who now has the lowest score overall -- and are less intensely negative about Obama (from -11 to -3).

Intensity scores for Obama have improved among both Democrats (from +27 in December to +32 in January) and Republicans (from -50 to -44). Meanwhile, Gingrich's decline was more evident in Republicans' ratings of him (down from +14 to +1) than among Democrats (from -37 to -40).

Obama Generates the Strongest Opinions in Both Directions

The results for positive intensity by party make it clear that Obama is the candidate who provokes the strongest emotional reactions, in both the positive and negative directions. His +32 score among Democrats is the most positive for any candidate and his -44 score among Republicans is the most negative.

Intensity Scores of Major Presidential Candidates, by Political Party, January 2012

Notably, Obama's score among Democrats is more than twice as high as the leading score (+12) for any of the Republican candidates among Republicans, shared by Romney and Rick Santorum.

As one might expect, Republicans give better scores to the Republican candidates than do Democrats, but there is one exception. Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China in the Obama administration and campaigned as a moderate candidate, had a higher intensity score among Democrats (+2) than among Republicans (-5), though he did not elicit much strong opinion from either side. (See the full results by clicking the link at the end of the story for a downloadable PDF file.) The same applies to Ron Paul, with scores of -1 among Republicans and -10 among Democrats.

Romney's -12 score among Democrats is better than most of his remaining competitors' scores; Democrats show much greater antipathy toward Santorum, Rick Perry, and Gingrich. Perry, who withdrew from the race on Thursday, has the dubious distinction of getting negative scores from both Republicans (-6) and Democrats (-30).

Candidates Are Fairly Well Known to the Public

The intensity scores reported here are based on opinions of those who recognize the names of each candidate. After nearly a year of campaigning, a majority of Americans are familiar with each, including at least 8 in 10 who recognize Romney, Gingrich, Paul, and Perry. (Gallup did not measure recognition of Obama, asking all Americans their opinion of him.) Huntsman lagged behind the other candidates in recognition; he was familiar to 56% of Americans.

Republicans generally exhibited greater familiarity with all of the GOP candidates than did Democrats, though roughly 8 in 10 Democrats recognized the most well-known Republican candidates.

Recognition Scores of Republican Presidential Candidates, by Party and among all Americans, January 2012


Obama and Romney have the best net images among the major candidates for president in 2012, with similar intensity scores of -3 and -1, respectively. They do differ in that many more Americans currently have strong opinions about Obama, both positive and negative, than do so about Romney. That could change in the coming months, though, as Americans become more familiar with Romney's positions and background, particularly if he winds up being the Republican presidential nominee.

The candidates' total favorable scores -- taking into account all opinions, regardless of strength -- are also similar. Obama is viewed favorably by 52% of Americans and unfavorably by 43%, whereas Romney's favorable and unfavorable percentages are 48% and 41%, respectively.

With only two nominating contests in the books -- the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary -- Romney has hardly clinched the nomination, though he is the clear front-runner based on his strong showings in those two states as well as his wide lead in national preference polls among Republicans. Republicans also overwhelmingly believe Romney will eventually win the nomination.

Gallup's Positive Intensity Scores indicate Romney, by virtue of his greater appeal to national adults in addition to Republicans, is currently better positioned to compete with Obama than any of his remaining Republican rivals.

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Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 12-15, 2012, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 2,010 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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