Despite sporting a high profile among the political class, Paul Ryan is still largely an unknown quantity to most Americans according to some new polls out on Mitt Rommey’s choice of running mate.
Allison Kopicki at the Caucus Blog:
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds Americans are divided over Mitt Romney’s selection of Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice-presidential running mate, but that favorable opinion of Mr. Ryan rose after the announcement was made.
Still, a sizable number of Americans have no impression of Mr. Ryan. A poll taken Sunday by Gallup/USA Today also finds division, with 42 percent of Americans viewing the choice of Mr. Ryan as “fair” or “poor” and 39 percent viewing it as an “excellent” or “pretty good” pick.
According to the Washington Post/ABC News poll, 38 percent of Americans viewed Mr. Ryan favorably after the announcement, up from 23 percent who said so just a few days earlier. The survey was based on two national samples of voters, with 667 interviews conducted by landline and cellphone Wednesday through Friday, before Mr. Romney announced his decision publicly, and 522 interviews conducted Saturday and Sunday, after the disclosure.
After the announcement, a third of Americans surveyed viewed Mr. Ryan unfavorably, no difference from earlier, while 3 in 10 Americans had no opinion, down from 45 percent.
Jim Geraghty at The Campaign Spot gives us a foretaste of how the Democrats and the media will seek to define Ryan:
In the national media narrative – perhaps best illustrated by the shorthand of Jay Leno’s monologue, which presumes that the audience has the barest-bone familiarity with national figures – every Republican figure is reduced to one of three things: Old, stupid, or evil.
George H.W. Bush: Old. Dan Quayle: Stupid. Newt Gingrich: Evil. Pat Buchanan: Evil. Bob Dole: Old. George W. Bush: Stupid. Dick Cheney: Old and evil. John McCain: Old. Sarah Palin: Stupid.
Yes, the comics joke about Democrats too (Al Gore is boring, Bill Clinton sleeps around). Sometimes you see the jokes recycled; when Obama and Biden went to Ray’s Hell Burger, one of the late night comics joked, “Obama had his with cheese, and Joe Biden had a happy meal.” I’m 90 percent sure that’s a recycled George H.W. Bush/Dan Quayle joke. A lot of the Bill Clinton philandering jokes got recycled for John Edwards.
Because Paul Ryan isn’t old, we will see an effort to paint him as either stupid or evil. You and I know that painting Paul Ryan as stupid is like trying to paint Bill Clinton as chaste. But we have also witnessed the rapid definition of an unknown Republican figure four years ago, and we know that right now, every Democratic official, commentator, talking head, and more than a few reporters awaken this morning with a new mission in life: define Paul Ryan.
Sometime in the fall, Saturday Night Live will offer some young comedian in a black wig and a creepy smile, boasting, “My favorite Christmas carol is, ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer!’” and we will be told by every political and cultural columnist that it is the most incisive and revealing bit of comedy out of the show in years, ever since “I can see Russia from my house.”
Geraghty makes the point that the treatment that will be meted out to Ryan is predictable “because it is not based upon some revealing truth or the genuine character or ideas of Ryan; it is based upon the needs of the Democratic Party at this moment.” Also predictable will be the Mediscare attacks — despite the fact that the Ryan budget plan exempts anyone 55 and older from its Medicare provisions. Seniors have absolutely nothing to worry about — until Democrats start lying to them about Romney/Ryan trying to take their Medicare away from them.
As for the polls, they are valuable only as a snapshot of the American people’s first impression of the candidate. Ryan’s middling marks are not as good as Dick Cheney’s first polls, but as good as Sarah Palin’s. Cheney had been a national figure for more than a decade prior to his selection so that’s to be expected. In short, if Ryan gets an opportunity to define himself, rather than the Democrats doing the job for him, he will be fine.