Fox News poll: Race for the White House tightens

Less than a week before the Republican convention begins, the race for the White House is a virtual tie.  According to a Fox News poll of likely voters, the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket receives the backing of 45 percent, while the Barack Obama-Joe Biden ticket garners 44 percent.

The poll, released Thursday, is the first Fox has conducted among likely voters this year, which means an apples-to-apples comparison can’t be made to previous polls.  Likely voters are eligible/registered voters who will most likely cast a ballot in this year’s presidential election.

This is also the first Fox poll to ask about the top and bottom of the major party tickets:  Democrats Obama and Vice President Joe Biden against Republicans Romney and Paul Ryan.  Romney announced his vice presidential pick of Wisconsin Rep. Ryan on August 11.

Both tickets have already gained the support of many of their key voting blocs.  Romney has the edge among white Evangelical Christians (70-18 percent), white voters (53-36 percent), married voters (51-38 percent), men (48-40 percent) and seniors (50-41 percent).

Obama has the advantage among black voters (86-6 percent), women (48-42 percent), lower income households (53-35 percent), young voters (48-39 percent) and unmarried voters (55-34 percent).

Independents back Romney by 42-32 percent (one in four is undecided).  Independents were vital to Obama’s 2008 victory, backing him over Republican John McCain by 52-44 percent (Fox News exit poll).

About one voter in ten is undecided or says they’ll vote for someone other than Obama and Romney.  Among just those voters, 55 percent disapprove of the job Obama is doing and only 17 percent think the country has changed for the better in the last four years.

Among undecided voters Romney is viewed more negatively than positively by 28 percentage points, while Obama is viewed more negatively by 12 points.

The poll shows Romney supporters are more enthusiastic.  By an 11 percentage-point margin the challenger’s backers are more likely to be “extremely” interested in the election, and by 10 points they’re more likely to think it’s “extremely” important their candidate wins.

Meanwhile, voters think neither candidate is sticking to the high road.  Small majorities say Romney (58 percent) and Obama (57 percent) will say and do just about anything to win in November.

On the big issue of last week, slightly more voters trust the Democratic ticket (by three points) to do a better job protecting Medicare and ensuring it’s there for future generations.

When asked who they trust to improve the economy and create jobs, voters favor the Republican ticket by two points -- a surprisingly slim margin in light of President Obama’s negative ratings on the issue.

By 54-42 percent, more voters disapprove than approve of Obama’s handling of the economy.  His overall job performance stands at 46 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove.

In addition, by a 17-point margin voters say the country has changed for the worse in the last four years rather than for the better (46-29 percent).  One in four says it hasn’t changed much either way.

A slightly larger number of voters say they will be more confident their financial situation will improve if Romney (38 percent) is elected than if Obama is re-elected (33 percent).  Still, majorities don’t have confidence things will get better for their family either way.

All in all, 51 percent of likely voters view Obama favorably and 46 percent unfavorably.  For Romney it’s 49 percent favorable and 44 percent unfavorable.

The vice presidential running mates are on roughly equal footing with each other.  Some 46 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Biden, while 45 percent view Ryan positively.  One in five likely voters isn’t familiar enough with Ryan yet to have an opinion.

By a 10-point margin, voters are more likely to say Ryan than Biden is the “stronger” vice presidential candidate.  Even so, voters are just as likely to say they would feel “comfortable” with Biden (45 percent) as with Ryan (46 percent) if they had to step in as president

Obama’s favorable rating is down six points and Biden’s is down nine points from the favorable ratings they had when elected in November 2008.

Still, none of the current slate of candidates can match the former first couple.  About two-thirds of voters have a favorable opinion of former President Bill Clinton (65 percent) and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton (64 percent).

And lastly, by a wide 46-point margin, voters think most members of the media want Obama (61 percent) to win the election rather than Romney (15 percent).

The Fox News poll is based on live telephone interviews on landlines and cell phones from August 19 to August 21 among 1,007 randomly-chosen likely voters nationwide.  Likely voters are registered voters who are considered most likely to vote in the November presidential election.  The poll is conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R).  For the total sample, it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.