It increasingly seems clear to me that the first debate’s impact on Romney’s personal image may be its most enduring legacy. One of Romney’s clear disadvantages in this race is that the president was for a long time basically liked much more than Romney and the Obama campaign’s spring and summer offensive on his record and image helped widen this gap. It’s now gone entirely. Here are Romney’s favorable ratings with no heightened sensitivity, from June to now. Red is unfavorable; black is favorable:

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Just look at that pivot. The Convention failed to move the needle, but some time in late September, a rise began, perhaps as Republicans came home and just decided they could like the guy. But then the big turning point is Romney’s first debate, when he effectively undid in one night almost everything the Obama campaign had thrown at him since the spring. It was a new market; he had a new sales pitch; a new set of policies; a personality implant. And for many low-information voters, and others, that was enough. Now, look, alas, at what has happened to the president in the same period of time in the same poll of polls:

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Obama’s net favorability is now + 2 points. Romney’s net favorability is now + 4.7. If you try and see the very latest twists and heighten sensitivity, Obama is actually in net unfavorable territory (- 2) while Romney is + 0.2. I cannot see much to encourage the Obama campaign in these numbers. Since mid-September, the country has clearly soured on the president personally a little, and gotten to like Mitt more. More to the point, you can’t blame the first debate. The shift began in mid-September – but then accelerated after the first debate. That may explain why that debate moved so much. Voters had been coming around to Romney already and he then confirmed those voters’ sentiments in the debate and they moved en masse. At least that’s my best guess.

We have yet to see any real impact from the second debate. But Obama has only ever had net unfavorables for a brief period after the debt ceiling fiasco in the summer of 2011. It’s not a good sign when the biggest movement upward in your unfavorables in your entire term is in October of your re-election year. Let’s just hope that his new stump speech boosting the recovery gets the rebound we need. In the Electoral College vote, here’s what Princeton has right now:

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