A protracted battle for the Republican presidential nomination has damaged how voters perceive the individual candidates and the Republican party in general, according to an NBC/WSJ poll.
Adults who said the primary has given them a less favorable impression of the GOP outnumbered those who said it had given them a better impression by a four to one ratio, with about four in ten saying the party was diminished in their eyes.
When asked to describe the contest in a single word or phrase, nearly 70 percent of respondents -- including a majority of independents and of self-described Republicans -- went negative with terms like discouraged, uninspiring and lesser of two evils.
The same gradual erosion applied to individual candidates. Mitt Romney's favorability/unfavorability ratio tumbled between January and February's poll, with the former Massachusetts governor now facing a 28 percent to 39 percent favorability deficit. That conforms to the findings of other polls finding that voters like Romney less over time.
Romney Attracting Supporters
Despite such misgivings, the Republican party is steadily crystallizing around Romney. Over the weekend, he won the endorsements of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA, a powerful congressman with significant pull among Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers, and Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
What we're doing is we're coalescing around Mitt Romney's plan to actually address the economic challenges we have, Cantor told CNN.
Tomorrow's Super Tuesday primary, in which 10 different states go to the polls, might not do much to clarify the field. Polls show Romney's rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum leading in some states, and the fact that delegates are awarded district by district raises the possibility of no man emerging the clear winner.