Republican Mitt Romney holds a slim edge over President Obama in a head-to-head matchup, a Fox News poll released Thursday shows. In addition, the poll finds the president’s job rating has dropped to its lowest point of the year.
In a presidential matchup, Romney tops Obama by 46-44 percent if the election were today.
As with every Romney-Obama matchup in the past six months, the race is so tight that it is within the poll’s margin of sampling error. This, however, is only the second time the Fox News poll shows Romney on top. The first time was November 2011, when he was also up by 2 percentage points.
The poll was conducted Monday through Wednesday. On Tuesday, Rick Santorum suspended his presidential bid -- giving Romney a clear path to the Republican nomination.
More Republicans (42 percent) than Democrats (32 percent) or independents (34 percent) say they are “extremely” interested in the upcoming presidential election.
Even so, the strength of party support in the matchup is dead even: 85 percent of Democrats back Obama and 85 percent of Republican back Romney.
Among the highly sought after group of independents, the poll found 43 percent back Romney and 37 percent Obama. Nearly one in four independent voters (21 percent) is undecided or won’t vote for either of the major party candidates. Last month, independents split evenly between Obama and Romney at 40 percent each. In February, Romney had a 9-point advantage.
The poll shows the gender gap may not solely be a problem for the Republican candidate. Women are more likely to back Obama (by 49-41 percent), while men are even more likely to give their support to Romney (by 52-38 percent). The 2008 Fox News national exit poll showed women voted for Obama over Republican John McCain by 13 percentage points (56-43 percent). Historically, exit poll results show women have consistently backed the Democrat over the Republican in presidential elections.
Obama’s overall job approval rating stands at 42 percent, down from 47 percent last month. The drop comes mainly from Democrats: 80 percent approve now, down from 86 percent in March. A 51 percent majority of voters disapproves of the job Obama is doing.
News of a stalled economic recovery has likely contributed to the decline in the president’s approval. The disappointing employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday and the recent stock market losses both received significant news coverage in the last week. The stock market suffered its worst losses of the year on Tuesday.
The poll shows these economic issues will continue to be a challenge for Obama.
More voters think Obama’s policies have hurt (37 percent) rather than helped the economy (31 percent). Three in 10 say his policies haven’t made much a difference either way (31 percent).
By more than two-to-one voters say the spending is out of control and the country must take action to reduce the national debt.
Meanwhile, 29 percent of voters say they are “scared” about the country’s financial future and another 49 percent are “concerned, but not scared.” Less than one voter in five feels “confident” (18 percent) and 4 percent are “enthusiastic.” Current views are similar to those from one year ago.
Just under half of Republicans -- 46 percent -- are scared about the future. That’s about three times the number of Democrats who say the same (14 percent). Thirty-one percent of independents are scared.
Most Americans -- 67 percent -- are unhappy with the direction of the country. About a third of voters (32 percent) say they are satisfied with the way things are going today. That’s little improvement from the 30 percent who felt that way a year ago (April 2011) and down a couple notches from two years ago (35 percent). This question is an important indication of voters’ mood. If the national mood is either positive or moving in a positive direction, that’s seen as good news for the incumbent president.
By a 7-point margin, more voters think Romney has the best experience to fix the economy (46-39 percent). Romney’s advantage widens over Obama to 41-28 percent among independents. And that advantage on handling the economy is a big boost for a candidate when over half of voters (53 percent) say the economy will be “extremely” important to their vote for president.
Not surprisingly, more voters prioritize the economy than any other issue tested. Just under half of voters say the federal budget deficit (45 percent) and health care (44 percent) will be “extremely” important in their presidential vote decision.
Among voters who say the economy is "extremely” important, Romney has a 55-37 percent advantage over Obama, and a 62-29 percent edge among those who say the same of the federal deficit. The two candidates are essentially tied among people who say health care is extremely important.
The poll also asks voters about some personal characteristics of the president and the presumed Republican nominee.
By a 9-point margin, voters are more likely to say Obama is “smarter,” than Romney, and by 7 points Obama is seen as “more optimistic.”
Finally, Obama has a 2-point edge when voters are asked which candidate is more likely “to tell you the truth.” Nearly one voter in five says “neither” will be honest (18 percent).
The Fox News poll is based on land-line and cell phone interviews with 910 randomly chosen registered voters nationwide and is conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from April 9 to April 11. For the total sample, it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points