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TAMPA — President Obama’s “personal likeability advantage has disappeared” for the first time in his presidency among the majority of voters who are now assessing Obama primarily on his job performance, according to a recently released national survey of likely voters.
Forty-eight percent of likely voters said that they viewed the president favorably, compared to 49-percent who had an unfavorable view. That finding is nearly identical to the number who approve of Obama’s job performance, which is split evenly at 49 percent.
The findings reveal that the president can no longer woo voters with his celebrity appeal, which helped propel him into the Oval Office in 2008 despite his scant political experience, according to a panel of political experts who held court Monday on the sidelines of the 2012 Republican National Convention here.
“The Obama people for some reason feel the need to tell people that they’ve moved the country forward and the American people don’t feel that’s the case,” said former Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who helped commission the poll on behalf of Resurgent Republic.
The poll, which surveyed 1,000 likely voters over several days last week, found that Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are locked in a statistical “dead heat,” with 46 percent favoring the president while 45 percent backed Romney.
Fifty-four percent of those polled believe the country is “not moving forward,” despite Team Obama’s campaign trail rhetoric, according to the survey.
Independent voters are also leaning towards Republicans, according to several metrics tested during the survey.
Self-described independents, for instance, view Democrats in Congress more negatively than Republicans and favor Republicans over Democrats on a generic ballot for Congress, according to the poll.
Most revealing, perhaps, is that independents “think it is time to give someone else a chance to be president” by a 22-point margin, according to the findings.
“It is an uphill climb to persuade the American voters the country is moving forward,” Whit Ayres, a veteran pollster, told a group of reporters, as he explained that a majority of those surveyed felt that they are worse off than four years ago.
President Obama also has a perception problem among most likely voters, the majority of whom self-identify as either “moderate” or “somewhat conservative,” but who largely view Obama as “a candidate of the left,” according to the poll.
Critical independent voters are “twice as likely to view Obama as ‘very liberal,’” the survey revealed.
Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate also seems to struck likely voters as a positive move, the poll found. Ryan has a higher overall favorability rating, 39 percent to 35 percent, while the gaffe-prone vice president, Joe Biden, is viewed unfavorably by 56 percent.
“Ryan was a bold choice and very positive for Romney,” Barbour said. “A lot of people thought Romney would be cautious and risk adverse, [but] … he made a bold statement, that this is a big election and we’re going to go at it as a big election.”
Ryan has also allowed the Romney campaign to speak boldly about issues such as Medicare and the federal budget. “Once you get a big gun that’s when you want to start talking about it,” Barbour said. Romney has statistically higher favorability ratings than Ronald Reagan did during this point of time in 1980, Barbour added.
“At this time in 1980 Reagan was behind nine [percentage points] so it’s encouraging for me to see these numbers,” he said. Barbour also noted other similarities to the 1980 race between Reagan and incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter.
“The biggest similarity is that people thought the country had gone backwards under Carter and people think the country has gone backwards under Barack Obama,” Barbour explained. Obama’s “economic policies have made America go backwards. The biggest difference is that Barack Obama … [is] in worse shape than Carter.”
Team Obama is trying to avoid an in-depth discussion about the administration’s record on critical economic issues of the day, Barbour added.
“The Obama campaign knows that if this is a referendum on his record they will lose,” he said. “That’s why they’ve spent all this time and money carpet bombing Romney” on a range of issues, such as tax returns and religion.