Barack Obama bests each of the Republican presidential candidates in hypothetical matchups. In addition, the president’s job approval rating hits its highest point in over six months -- despite a decline in optimism on the economy.
A Fox News poll released Friday shows 48 percent of voters approve of the job Obama is doing as president. That’s up from 45 percent in January, and the highest positive rating Obama has received since June 2011. The president can thank his party faithful, as 85 percent of Democrats approve. Compare that to 33 percent approval among independents and 9 percent among Republicans.
Looking ahead to November, Obama edges Republican Mitt Romney by 5 percentage points (47-42 percent) in a hypothetical matchup today. In January, the president had a narrow one-point edge (46-45 percent). Both leads are within the polls’ margins of sampling error.
The president’s advantage widens against the other GOP contenders. Obama leads Ron Paul by 10 percentage points (48-38 percent), Rick Santorum by 12 points (50-38 percent) and Newt Gingrich by 13 points (51-38 percent).
Among independents, Romney tops Obama by 9 points. Last month, independents also broke for Romney (by 5 points).
More voters overall would be enthusiastic or pleased if Romney (28 percent) or Santorum (27 percent) were to become president than Gingrich (23 percent) or Paul (21 percent). Still, President Barack Obama tops them all, as 41 percent of voters would be enthusiastic or pleased if he were re-elected.
Twice as many voters overall would be enthusiastic if Obama were to be re-elected than if any Republican contenders were to win. And twice as many Democrats would be enthusiastic if Obama were re-elected than Republicans would feel enthused about a victory by any of the GOP candidates.
Gingrich has the highest number of voters -- 33 percent -- saying they would feel scared if he were to become president. Almost as many -- 27 percent -- would feel that way if Obama were re-elected.
At least half of all voters think Romney (55 percent), Paul (51 percent) and Santorum (50 percent) have the integrity to serve effectively as president, while a slim majority says Gingrich doesn’t (52 percent). A 63-percent majority says Obama has the integrity to serve.
The poll shows fewer voters are optimistic about the economy. Forty-two percent say the worst is over. That’s down from 48 percent a year ago. Some 48 percent say the worst is yet to come.
Who can fix it? Almost twice as many voters are “very” confident in Obama’s ability to fix the economy as in Romney’s (21 percent and 11 percent respectively). Still, equal numbers of voters are at least somewhat confident in Obama (51 percent) and Romney (51 percent). For Gingrich, 43 percent are very or somewhat confident he can improve the economy.
Other findings from the poll:
-- About half of Republican primary voters would still like to see someone else jump in their race. Would former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush help them oust Obama in November? Not if the election were held today. In an Obama-Bush matchup, the president comes out on top by 50-36 percent. Moreover, Bush receives less backing among Republicans than the other Republican contenders with the exception of Paul.
-- Voters remain overwhelmingly unhappy with lawmakers in Washington: 13 percent approve of the job Congress is doing and 79 percent disapprove. In December, it was 12-83 percent.
-- By a 67-25 percent margin, voters support building the Keystone XL pipeline. That includes: 87 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of independents and 50 percent of Democrats say build it.
-- The poll asked about the Obama administration requiring all employer health plans to provide birth control coverage as part of preventative services for women. (This includes Catholic and other religious-affiliated hospitals and universities that oppose doing so because it violates their religious rights.) A majority sides with the administration: 61 percent of voters approve of the requirement, while 34 percent disapprove. There’s a wide gender gap, as women (67 percent) are significantly more likely than men (53 percent) to approve. Catholics (58 percent) and Protestants (57 percent) alike approve of the requirement. And a majority of Catholic women (65 percent) as well as half of Catholic men (51 percent) also back the mandate.
-- By 60-30 percent, more voters support than oppose the U.S. taking military action to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Still, support for taking action is down from 65 percent when the question was last asked in April 2010. Fewer voters (45 percent) think the U.S. should use force to help the nation’s close ally Israel, if Iran and Israel were to get in a war, while nearly half think the U.S. should stay neutral (48 percent).
The Fox News poll is based on landline and cell phone interviews with 1,110 randomly-chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from February 6 to February 9. For the total sample, it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.