(NEW YORK) — A widening gender gap, modest economic gains, an edge on key issues and broad advantages in personal popularity are boosting President Obama’s re-election prospects, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. Yet Mitt Romney, moving to close the deal in his own party, holds opportunities of his own for the road ahead.
Obama has returned to a single-digit lead vs. Romney in the new poll — 51-44 percent among registered voters — after a virtual dead heat last month. That includes Obama’s largest margin to date among women, 57-38 percent. He trails by 8 points among men.
Underscoring that gender gap, Obama leads Romney by 19 points among all adults in trust to handle “women’s issues,” his single largest advantage among a dozen issues tested in the poll, which was produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. That includes a 10-point lead for Obama on women’s issues among men, growing to 27 points among women.
After an extended period of debate and political positioning on a range of issues of concern to women, there’s also a sharp gender gap in the president’s overall job approval rating — 13 points higher among women than men, another record in ABC/Post polls. Obama’s 50 percent approval rating overall rests on positive views among 56 percent of women vs. 43 percent of men.
Other factors are at play. Obama leads Romney by significant margins in trust to handle six key issues in all, ranging from international affairs to protecting the middle class to handling social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Romney clearly leads on just one — handling the deficit. Obama also leads on a range of personal attributes, including by a vast 38 points in being seen as the more friendly and likable of the two and by 26 points as “more inspiring.”
Among issues, the economy, and the broader sentiment it inspires, are key to the election. Today, the fewest number of Americans in more than a year say the country is on the wrong track, nearly half say their local economy is improving and a sense that jobs are “very difficult” to find has eased by 14 percentage points from last summer.
In addition, approval of Obama’s handling of the economy is up by 6 points from last month, “strong” disapproval has eased by 8 points from its record high and he leads Romney by 12 points as better understanding average Americans’ economic problems.
Yet there are opportunities for Romney. He now leads Rick Santorum by 20 percentage points among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents as the preferred candidate for the GOP nomination, up from a scant 2 points last month.
In perhaps Romney’s strongest line of attack, 54 percent still disapprove of Obama’s performance on the economy — 5 points lower than last month but a continuous majority since July 2010.
Head-to-head, Romney has 47 percent support compared to Obama’s 43 percent in trust to handle the economy — not a statistically significant difference but an indication of Obama’s vulnerability on this central concern. And they’re essentially even (Obama +3) on trust to handle creating jobs.
Romney has made inroads against Obama on some issues compared with ABC/Post results in February. Obama then led by 20 points in trust to handle terrorism, 18 points on better protecting the middle class and 10 points on handling taxes. Those have eased to 7, 10 and 3 points now.
Romney may also find political fuel if gasoline prices continue to rise; while Obama escapes most direct blame, 62 percent disapprove of how he’s handling the price of gas, no worse than last month’s 65 percent, but not substantively better, and broadly negative.
Romney, however, looks little better overall against Obama than does Santorum, who trails Obama by 52-42 percent among registered voters. That makes Romney’s support in the general election look more anti-Obama, and generally pro-Republican, than specifically pro-Romney.
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