WASHINGTON -- President Obama's popularity among women, minorities and independents is giving him an early edge over his likely Republican rival, Mitt Romney, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
The Democratic president also earns strong marks on empathy, sincerity, likability and social issues. But Americans are split over which candidate can best handle the economy, which might open pathways for Romney six months before the November election.
Half of registered voters say they would back Obama in November, while 42 percent favor Romney, the AP-GfK poll found.
Forty-one percent of voters say they are certain to vote for Obama, and 32 percent say they are locked in for Romney. About a quarter of voters indicated they are persuadable, meaning they are undecided or could change their minds before Election Day.
The nationwide poll comes as Romney is focusing heavily on fundraising after gaining endorsements from of all but one of his GOP rivals, and conservative voters are reminding politicians of their muscle. Republicans in Indiana on Tuesday ousted a six-term senator accused of being too friendly to Obama, and North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
However, Obama endorsed gay marriage Wednesday, a sign that he is eager to fire up young and liberal voters even if it costs him some support in battleground states such as North Carolina, which he narrowly won in 2008.
In the AP-GfK poll, Americans give Obama an edge over Romney on numerous attributes, but handling the economy is a key exception. The public is divided over whether Obama or Romney would do a better job on the issue that strategists say will dominate the fall election. Forty-six percent prefer Obama on this topic, and 44 percent prefer Romney.
Meanwhile, support for the war in Afghanistan has hit a new low and is on par with the low level of support for the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, a bad sign for Obama as he argues that to end the war responsibly the United States must remain in Afghanistan another two years.
Only 27 percent of Americans say they back the war effort, and 66 percent oppose the war, according to the AP-GfK poll.
A November 1971 Harris poll showed a record-high 65 percent of Americans said that continued fighting in Vietnam was "morally wrong." By that time the United States was already drastically cutting the size of its fighting force in Vietnam on the road to a full military withdrawal in 1973.
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted last Thursday through Monday by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.