Poll: Obama opens lead on Romney, but faces concerns on economy

A new poll finds President Obama with a clear lead against GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, but facing voter concerns about his handling of the economy.

The new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Obama ahead of Romney by 52 to 43 percent among all surveyed, with a 51 to 45 percent edge among registered voters in a hypothetical match-up between the two.

The president has also made strong advances winning back independent voters. In the last Washington Post-ABC poll, Romney held a 12-point lead among independents. Those voters now break for Obama 48 percent to Romney’s 47.

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Against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Romney's top rival for the GOP nomination, the president holds a larger advantage, earning 54 percent support of registered voters to Gingrich's 43 percent.

But on the economy, the poll shows Obama facing strong doubts from voters. 

Fifty-four percent of registered voters disapprove of Obama's job performance on the economy, with 44 percent approving. Fifty-two percent disapprove of his work on job growth, with 43 percent backing the president's jobs agenda. 

The president was buoyed by recent news that the unemployment rate had dropped to 8.3 percent, but the poll’s findings show the economy is still a soft spot for his campaign. Nine in 10 of those surveyed held a negative outlook on the economy.

On taxes and the budget deficit, both of which were at the center of contentious fights with congressional Republicans, the poll shows Obama in negative territory. Forty-nine percent of registered voters disapprove of his record on taxes, with 46 percent approving. On the budget deficit, 61 percent disapprove with only 35 percent approving of Obama's handling of the issue.

Voters trust Romney more than the president on those issues. 

Fifty-two percent of registered voters say Romney will better handle the federal deficit to only 39 percent for Obama. And 50 percent prefer Romney on the economy to 44 percent for Obama.

On creating jobs, the candidates are deadlocked, with 46 percent of registered voters picking each to do the most effective job.

But the poll also suggests attacks on Romney by Democrats and his Republican rivals as an out-of-touch millionaire might be resonating with many voters. Fifty-two percent of registered voters say Obama better understands the economic problems faced by people in the country, with 37 percent picking Romney.

The poll also found voters trust Obama to do a better job "protecting the middle class" than Romney by 56 to 37 percent. 

The results come after a rough week for the former Massachusetts governor after he said he was "not concerned about the very poor" as he tried to explain that his campaign was focused on helping the middle-class voters hit hardest by the economy. Romney’s rivals have leapt on a series of verbal gaffes to portray him as out-of-touch with the concerns of the middle class.

Romney’s campaign, though, has pushed his business experience, trying to make the case that Romney has the knowledge to turn around the economy.

Still, the attacks appear to have taken their toll. 

Among independent voters, 33 percent say Romney’s work as CEO of private equity firm Bain Capital helped create jobs while 34 percent say his work did more to harm jobs.

Romney’s rivals have accused him of profiting from shuttering businesses and firing voters during his tenure at Bain, which specialized in buying struggling companies and attempting to turn them around.

As a millionaire, Romney’s wealth is also an issue with many voters, with 44 percent seeing his fortune as a “negative” and 43 percent seeing it as a positive. Two-thirds of those surveyed do not believe Romney is paying his fair share in taxes. 

Romney faced strong criticism earlier in the campaign for not disclosing his tax returns. He released them in January, with his financial statements showing that he owed $6.2 million in taxes on $42.5 million in combined income in 2010 and 2011.

The Washington Post poll was conducted from Feb. 1 to Feb. 4 and has a 4 percent margin of error.

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