At a time when Americans are saying a candidate’s behavior on the campaign trail will be an important factor in how they cast their ballots in November, likely voters believe President Obama has conducted his re-election campaign in a more civil manner than Governor Mitt Romney, according to a new poll by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate with KRC Research.

A majority of likely voters, 55 percent to 42 percent, considers President Obama’s campaign tone to be civil, while a plurality, 49 percent to 45 percent, perceives Governor Romney’s tone as uncivil. The civility gap is potentially significant because nearly half of likely voters polled, 48 percent, say the candidate’s civility will be a “very important” factor in how they vote.

The gap was much less pronounced for the Vice Presidential candidates. Vice President Biden was seen as civil by a margin of 49 percent to 43 percent while likely voters were evenly split in their assessment of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, with 46 percent saying he was civil and the same number saying he had been uncivil.

The findings suggest that the American people are paying close attention not only to what the candidates say but how they act. Ahead of the first presidential debate, 57 percent of likely voters said that any incivility demonstrated on the debate stage will affect their votes. The sentiment was shared equally by self-described Democrats (54 percent), Republicans (55 percent) and Independents (58 percent).

“Governor Romney has to aggressively underscore his policy differences with President Obama without engaging in attacks that will seem uncivil and alienate voters,” says KRC Research CEO Bradley Honan. “Style and tone matter, and if he walks that tightrope well, he can bridge the civility gap and lessen, or even erase, what appears to be an impediment to his election among voters.”

Following up previous Weber Shandwick polls on Civility in America, the new survey found two-thirds (66 percent) of likely voters saying incivility was a major problem in society with 85 percent also saying political campaigns are uncivil