With Mitt Romney having picked Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, we can shed some light on these questions: What do people know about Ryan? And what do they think of him?
A series of polls done by YouGov for the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project suggests that most people have never heard of Paul Ryan before today. In several polls since April 28, YouGov has asked a representative sample of 1,000 people if they have heard of Ryan and to rate him in terms of favorability. This gives us a large sample on which to base this analysis.
Over the last several months, roughly 43% of Americans report that they have never heard of Paul Ryan. In mid-July, 52% could not even make a guess as to whether Ryan was a member of the House, the Senate, was Secretary of State, or was a Governor (32% got it right). Republicans are more likely to know that Ryan was a member of the House -- 42% of Republicans knew this, compared to 29% of Democrats and 34% of independents.
And what do the people who know Ryan think of him? In these surveys, about 28% reported having a favorable view and 29% reported having a unfavorable view. Those who had strongly unfavorable views outnumbered those with strongly favorable views -- suggesting that unfavorable opinions are more intensely held at this point in time. These ratings are affected by party, of course: on average about 54% of Republicans have a favorable impression of Ryan compared to only 10% of Democrats.
What about independents and undecided voters? Their opinions tend to be unfavorable. About 26% of independents have an unfavorable impression of Ryan, while 21% of independents have a favorable impression. A majority (52%) of independents did not have any impression of Ryan.
Among undecided voters, the same things holds: 57% had no opinion, but unfavorable opinions tended to outnumber favorable opinions (25% vs. 18%).
So most people know little about Paul Ryan, which gives him an opportunity to introduce himself to the American electorate. At the same time, the people who do know who he is don’t tend to view him favorably (unless they are Republicans). This tendency among independents and undecided voters is potentially troubling for the Romney-Ryan ticket.
Can Ryan change the impressions of those who have them? Probably not. Can he shape the impressions of those who don’t have them, and shape them in a favorable way? That's the big question.