Fox News Poll: President Obama tops Republican contenders in matchups

President Barack Obama continues to top each of the Republican contenders in general election matchups, according to a Fox News poll released Wednesday that also found a majority of American voters see signs the economy is turning around.

Nearly half of voters -- 47 percent -- approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while 45 percent disapprove. That’s little changed from last month when 48 percent approved and 45 percent disapproved (February 6-9, 2012).

Click here for full Fox News poll results.

Although the president’s ratings on handling the economy are upside-down, they have improved over the last three months. The new poll shows a 54-percent majority of voters disapproves of Obama on the economy, down from 62 percent in December. Forty-two percent approve, up from 35 percent three months ago.

Almost 6 in 10 voters see “signs the nation’s economy has started turning around” (58 percent), and 44 percent think the Obama administration has made the economy better -- that’s up from 34 percent who felt that way last summer (July 2011).

Yet it isn’t all positive news for the president.

By more than a two-to-one margin, voters disapprove of Obama’s handling of gas prices (26 percent approve, 61 percent disapprove). Forty percent blame the administration’s policies on domestic oil drilling and the president’s refusal to build the Keystone pipeline for the hike in gas prices. And 31 percent think high gas prices make President Obama feel “happy” because it will encourage the country to find alternative energy sources.

In addition, more voters say the president is still blaming others for the economy (47 percent) rather than taking responsibility (38 percent).

Looking ahead to November, the president continues to have the edge over the Republican candidates.

In hypothetical matchups, Obama tops Rick Santorum by 51-39 percent and Ron Paul by 50-38 percent. The president has the widest advantage against Newt Gingrich: 53-35 percent.

If the election were held today, 46 percent of voters would support Obama and 42 percent Mitt Romney. The difference between the candidates is within the poll’s margin of sampling error.

Most of Obama’s voters -- 73 percent -- say they are voting “for” him rather than “against” Romney (23 percent). The reverse is true among Romney backers: 54 percent say their support is more “against” Obama rather than “for” Romney (40 percent).

In the general election matchup, independents split evenly between Obama and Romney, giving both 40 percent. Last month, independents also broke for Romney (by 9 points).

More Republicans (76 percent) than Democrats (68 percent) say they are “extremely” or “very” interested in the upcoming election. Among independents, 57 percent feel that way.

Setting aside how they would vote, sizable majorities think Romney (69 percent) and Obama (60 percent) are “very” or “somewhat” qualified to manage the economy. However, more see Obama as “very” qualified -- 35 percent compared to 27 percent for Romney.

On being commander-in-chief, while similar majorities think Obama (65 percent) and Romney (63 percent) are qualified, twice as many say the current president is “very” qualified for that role (41 percent) as say Romney is (20 percent).

Nearly half of voters think Santorum is qualified to manage the economy, including 12 percent saying “very” qualified and another 36 percent “somewhat” qualified. For Gingrich it’s 17 percent “very” and 32 percent “somewhat” qualified.

Less than half think Santorum (46 percent) and Gingrich (47 percent) are qualified to be commander-in-chief.

Finally, more voters -- 50 percent -- have a favorable opinion of Obama than any of the Republican candidates. Thirty-nine percent have a favorable opinion of Romney, 35 percent have a positive view of Santorum, 35 percent of Paul and 23 percent of Gingrich.

The Fox News poll is based on landline and cell phone interviews with 912 randomly-chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from March 10 to March 12. For the total sample, it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.