Given the widespread publicity that Mitt Romney’s “dog problem” continues to receive – it was on the front page of the Washington Post just last week – it’s no surprise that a polling group decided to see if the issue could resonate at the ballot box, or merely be the crate-gate scandal that launched a thousand late-night jokes.

The story, discovered by the Boston Globe in 2007, goes something like this. In 1983 Romney, then a 36-year-old rising star in the private equity world, loaded up the family station wagon with five sons and luggage for a long trek from Boston to Ontario, Canada. Seamus, the family’s Irish Setter, was put into his dog crate, which was then strapped to the top of the car. Romney’s plan was to make the 12-hour drive with customary pinpoint precision, stopping just once for gas, snacks and ablutions. But Seamus, whether terrified or over-excited, at some point soiled himself, as the boys discovered when they saw brown liquid running down the car window. Romney, the efficiency expert, quickly pulled into a nearby gas station to hose down the car, and the dog, calm down the kids, and get back on the road.

The ancient tale has spawned dozens of newspaper articles and television segments, especially as Romney has become 2012’s presumptive GOP nominee. It has also created its own protest movement, Dogs Against Romney, which has close to 42,000 followers on Facebook.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling company, found that the story, as a proxy for Romney’s general demeanor and level of empathy, was having a negative impact on the former Massachusetts governor’s image.

“The generic description of what Romney did to Seamus is seen as humane by only 14 percent of Americans and as inhumane by 68 percent,” the group said. “There is tripartisan agreement on that front — 74 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of independents, and 63 percent of the GOP.”