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Steve Kornacki's latest article: The race to the bottom

The takeaway finding from the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last night is that the negative tone of both presidential campaigns is taking a toll on each candidate’s image.

Mitt Romney, whose numbers had ticked up in the immediate wake of the Republican primary season, is saddled with upside-down popularity. Just 35 percent of voters view him favorably, while 40 percent see him unfavorably. Obama fares better – a 49-43 percent favorable unfavorable score – but his negative score is as high as it’s been in the NBC/WSJ poll since the eve of the 2010 midterms, and his “very unfavorable” number (32 percent) is higher than ever.

Conventional wisdom holds that there’s more danger in this for Romney than Obama, since voters are more familiar with the president and their basic assessment of him is more fixed. Romney, on the other hand, is far less defined, which is why the Obama campaign unleashed such an early and intense barrage against him. The idea is to poison the jury against Romney and to give pause to just enough economically anxious swing voters who would otherwise be inclined to vote out the incumbent.

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