Evan Vucci, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Fewer Americans believe the economy is getting better and a majority disapproves of how President Barack Obama is handling it, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney has exploited those concerns and moved into a virtually even position with the president.
Three months of declining job creation have left the public increasingly glum, with only 3 out of 10 adults saying the country is headed in the right direction. Five months before the election, the economy remains Obama's top liability.
Obama has lost the narrow lead he held just a month ago among registered voters. In the new poll, 47 percent 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 well from a bruising Republican primary, with more of his supporters saying they are certain to vote for him now.
Still, in a measure of Romney's own vulnerabilities, even some voters who say they support Romney believe the president will still be re-elected. Of all adults polled, 56 percent believe Obama will win a second term.
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. The poll is not good news for the president, and it reflects 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.
About half — 49 percent — approve of how Obama is handling his job as president, dropping him below the 50 percent mark he was above in May. Disapproval of Obama is highest — 55 percent — for his handling of the economy. Still, registered voters are split virtually evenly on whether Romney or Obama would do a better job improving it.
"I'm not going to vote for Obama," said Raymond Back, a 60-year-old 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."
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 Kerry, were also locked in a dead heat.
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. The Obama camp is busy trying to define Romney, hoping it is reaching more independents like Doss Comer, 58, of Jacksonville, N.C., who said he would vote for Obama again, despite the lagging economy.
"I think we are on the wrong track," he said. "We're not getting anywhere. We're not growing. The unemployment rate just spiked up again." But, he added: "I don't trust Romney because of what he's doing. He's telling his business experience, that he was an investor in business. ... I don't think he has the right background any more than Obama."
Besides weak job growth and still high unemployment, Obama is at the mercy of European countries struggling with a debt crisis that has already sent ripples across the Atlantic. At the same time, there are signs that the housing industry may be on the mend. U.S. builders started work on more single-family homes in May and requested the most permits to build homes and apartments in 3 1/2 years.
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