On the cusp of the election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney has achieved a milestone that had so far eluded him: a majority of voters like him.
That is the upshot of the latest Washington Post/ABC news poll. For months, that series of polls has been capturing Romney's extraordinarily low levels of favorability. Even as voters coalesced behind him in the Republican primary and then propelled him into a virtual dead heat with President Obama, more of them viewed the Republican nominee in an unfavorable light than a favorable one.
But a late surge has finally pushed Romney into the positives. 53 percent of voters said they had a positive image of him against 45 percent who did not. That marks a remarkable late turnaround for a candidate who has struggled to connect personally to voters in the year he has been running for president.
Even as Romney collected victories in primary states, exit polls indicated that voters were motivated by pragmatism rather than passion: he was rarely the first choice when voters were asked which candidate best matched their conservative values, but he was seen as the most likely to unseat President Obama. Polling showed him to be the least popular major-party candidate in decades, and after a commanding performance in the first presidential debate his favorability was still underwater.
On the surface, President Obama has almost identical favorability numbers -- the latest WaPo/ABC poll shows the president at 54-45 favorable/unfavorable, Obama's backers are more enthusiastic, with 38 percent saying they strongly favor the president against 30 percent for Romney.
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Romney has built his campaign on the argument that he will do a better job than Obama of jumpstarting the economic recovery, but that message hasn't given Romney a significant advantage on the issue. A slim majority of voters, 49 percent to 46 percent, said they would trust Romney more to handle the economy.
The presidential debates, widely credited with reviving Romney's faltering campaign, seem to have given the Republican nominee a boost. 62 percent of respondents said Romney's performance in the debates was a factor in how they would vote, and they gave him high marks for favorability.
President Obama's handling of the response to Hurricane Sandy was less significant: voters were evenly split, 49-49, on whether that would affect their vote.
Underlying numbers aside, the dynamics of the race appear to be unchanged with Election Day two days away. Romney and Obama are still locked in a virtual tie nationally, with both polling at 48 percent. Independents are also divided, 46 percent to 46 percent, on which candidate they would be supporting.