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Fox News poll: 2012 Obama-Romney race would be tight

President Barack Obama and Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney are essentially tied in a hypothetical general election matchup. Still, Obama’s support is stronger and more positive than Romney’s.

That’s according to a Fox News poll released Monday.

In a potential Obama-Romney election, 46 percent of voters would back Obama and 45 percent Romney if the election were held today. The president’s narrow advantage is well within the poll’s three percentage-point margin of sampling error.

And behind those numbers is a striking contrast: 74 percent of Obama backers say they are voting “for” him rather than “against Romney” (21 percent). Yet for Romney, his support is mainly anti-Obama. Fifty-eight percent of Romney voters say they would be voting “against Obama” rather than “for Romney” (33 percent).

Click here for full Fox News poll results.

Each candidate receives strong backing from their party faithful. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats back Obama, and 86 percent of Republicans support Romney.

Independents break for Romney by 43-38 percent.

Overall, more voters are “very” confident in Obama’s ability (26 percent) to make the right decisions for the country than feel that way about Romney (16 percent).

On the other hand more voters are either “very” or “somewhat” confident in Romney’s decision-making (59 percent), than Obama’s (54 percent “very” or “somewhat” confident).

All in all, 51 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Obama and 46 percent unfavorable. For Romney, 45 percent view him favorably and 38 percent unfavorably.

Romney’s venture capitalist background is viewed positively by a majority of voters. By a 54-30 percent margin, more voters think it is a “good thing” for a candidate to have that kind of financial experience and knowledge rather than a “bad thing” because the candidate would be too close to Wall Street and the greed that caused the financial collapse.

In hypothetical matchups with other top Republican contenders, the president has the edge. Obama tops Newt Gingrich by 51-37 percent, and Rick Santorum by 50-38 percent.

The race stays tight when hypothetical vice presidential running mates are added to the mix. An Obama-Biden ticket has a slim edge over a Republican ticket of Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by 3 percentage points (47-44 percent) and a Romney-Santorum ticket by one point (46-45 percent).

A Ron Paul third-party run could put Obama squarely in the driver’s seat. As an independent candidate, Paul receives the support of 14 percent and Obama tops Romney by 42-35 percent.

While 52 percent of voters nationally think President Obama will be re-elected, about the same number -- 49 percent -- thinks the country would be better off with someone else as president.

The poll brings more mixed news for Obama. On the positive side, 34 percent of voters are satisfied with the way things are going in the country today. That’s up from 24 percent in October and 30 percent in April 2011. And more voters today think the economy has started to turn the corner than thought so two months ago. Forty percent now think the worst is over, up from 29 percent in mid-November.

Less encouraging for the president is that a 56-percent majority is pessimistic on the economy, and 53 percent think life for the next generation of Americans will be worse than life today. Thirty-four percent think it will be better.

Currently 45 percent of voters approve and 47 percent disapprove of the job President Obama is doing. That’s little changed from December when 44 percent approved and 51 percent disapproved.

Meanwhile, about four voters in 10 are either “very happy” (7 percent) or “satisfied” (35 percent) with the Obama administration. More than a third is “disappointed” (37 percent) and about one in five is “angry” (19 percent). These views are mostly unchanged from the last time the question was asked in September 2011.

Among independents, many more have negative feelings (62 percent) toward the Obama administration as have positive feelings (35 percent).

Do endorsements matter? The poll asked voters about some influential people making candidate endorsements. In each case most said it would not make a difference to their vote.

Twenty-nine percent of voters would be more likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by former President Bill Clinton and 17 percent would if former President George W. Bush made the endorsement.

Less than one in 10 would be swayed by Denver Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow (9 percent). And businessman Donald Trump could do a candidate more harm than good -- 27 percent would be less likely to vote for someone he endorsed. That’s nearly three times as many as would be more likely to do so (10 percent).

The Fox News poll is based on landline and cell phone interviews with 906 randomly-chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from January 12 to January 14. For the total sample, it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.