Fighting a swell of economic anxiety, President Obama has lost much of the narrow lead he held just a month ago over Mitt Romney and the two now are locked in a virtually even race for the White House, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. The survey also found a majority of Americans disapproving of how the Democratic president is handling a national economy that fewer people think is improving.
Less than five months before the election, 47 percent of those surveyed say they will vote for the president and 44 percent for Romney, a difference that is not statistically significant. The poll also shows that Romney has recovered from a bruising Republican primary process, with more of his supporters saying they are certain to vote for him now.
The economy remains Obama's top liability. Only 3 in 10 adults say the country is headed in the right direction, and 55 percent disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy, the highest level detected in AP-GfK polls this year.
"I'm not going to vote for Obama," said Raymond Back, 60, a manufacturing plant manager from North Olmsted, Ohio, one of the most competitive states in this election. "It's just the wrong thing to do. I don't know what Romney is going to do, but this isn't the right way."
Yet, in a measure of Romney's own vulnerabilities, even some voters who say they support Romney believe that the president will still be re-elected. Of all adults polled, 56 percent believe that Obama will win a second term. And despite three months of declining job creation that have left the public increasingly glum, Romney has not managed to seize the economic issue from the president, with registered voters split virtually evenly on whether Romney or Obama would do a better job of improving it.
The polling numbers come as no surprise to either camp. Both Romney and Obama advisers have anticipated a close contest that will be driven largely by economic conditions. And just Monday, a Bloomberg National Poll showed Obama with a 13-point lead over Romney.
With his Republican nomination now ensured, Romney has succeeded in unifying the party behind him and in maintaining a singular focus on making the election a referendum on Obama's handling of the economy. Over time, polls that measure Obama's standing have reflected fluctuations in the economy, which has shown both strength and weakness since it began to recover from the recent recession. The new survey illustrates how an ideologically divided country and a stumbling recovery have driven the two men into a tight match.
The poll results among voters who live in states decided by less than 10 percentage points in 2008 underscore Obama's challenge. Among those voters in the new poll, Romney has an advantage, a shift from last month when Obama held that edge.
Still, Obama's overall 49 percent approval rating is not unlike the approval ratings George W. Bush faced in June 2004 during his re-election campaign, when he and his Democratic challenger, John F. Kerry, were also locked in a dead heat.
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted June 14 to Monday by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved land line and cellphone interviews with 1,007 adults nationwide, including 878 registered voters. Results from the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is 4.2 points for registered voters.