(NEW YORK) — Mitt Romney has solidified his position for the Republican nomination but lost ground in the main event, with improved economic indicators and questions about Romney’s wealth and taxes lifting President Obama to a head-to-head advantage for the first time this cycle, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.
Fifty percent of Americans surveyed in the new poll approve of Obama’s job performance, the most since spring. Moreover, 50 percent say he deserves re-election — better than Bill Clinton at the start of his re-election year and as good as George W. Bush a month before he won a second term. And now, Obama leads Romney among registered voters by a slight 51-45 percent, the first time either has cracked 50 percent in a series of matchups since spring.
Two chief factors are at play. One is the economy’s gradual but unmistakable improvement, marked by the newly reported January unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, the lowest since a month after Obama took office. The president’s approval rating on handling the economy, while just 44 percent, is its best in 13 months.
The other: questions focused on Romney’s wealth, his low tax burden and, relatedly, his ability to connect with average Americans. Notably, 52 percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, say the more they hear about Romney the less they like him — double the number who like him more.
Based on his roughly 14 percent tax rate on 2010 income of about $22 million, the public by a broad 66-30 percent says Romney is not paying his “fair share” of taxes — echoing constant media attention of President Obama’s go-to phrase of late. Even nearly half of Republicans say so, as do half of very conservative Americans, at least according to those polled.
The public by 53-36 percent — a 17-point margin — also thinks Obama better understands the economic problems people are having. Obama leads Romney by 55-37 percent in trust to better protect the interests of the middle class, and remarkably, by 10 points — 52-42 percent — in trust to handle taxes.
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