Romney all but erases Obama's polling lead on foreign policy

Mitt Romney has all but erased President Obama's lead on foreign policy issues in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, according to a Pew poll released Thursday.

Obama's lead on foreign policy has plummeted by 11 points since the outbreak of violence in the Middle East that culminated with the death of four Americans in Libya on Sept. 11, according to Pew. 

The president holds a slim 47 percent to 43 percent edge over his GOP rival on the issue of who would do a better job on foreign policy, down from a 15-point advantage in September.

The poll of 1,511 adults was conducted two weeks ago, and found that many Americans have soured on the situation in the Middle East: only 25 percent see a positive future for the region, down from 42 percent in April.

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The change in mood is likely a result of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans last month. 

A separate Pew poll taken last week, also released Thursday, found that a large chunk of independent voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the Libya situation, possibly helping Romney with a bloc of voters that could decide the election.

The second poll found that while the general public was split evenly on Obama’s handling of the attack, independents were more likely to disapprove of the president's handling of the situation, 40 percent to 28 percent. 

Republicans have been hammering the administration for being slow to clearly label the assault a terrorist attack and for failing to give Stevens the extra security he'd sought in the months prior to the attack.

The poll of 1,006 adults was conducted Friday through Sunday, before Tuesday's much-talked-about debate exchange between Obama and Romney on the issue of Libya. The Benghazi attack is expected to loom large during Monday's third and final debate, which will be devoted to foreign policy.

The public is now more likely to say preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon is more important than avoiding military conflict, 56 percent to 35 percent (versus 50 percent to 41 percent, respectively, in January). And more poll respondents now say getting tougher with China on economic issues is more important than building a stronger relationship, 49 percent versus 42 percent (the figures were reversed, 40 percent to 53 percent, nine months ago).

Obama is virtually deadlocked with Romney on the question of who would better handle Iran's nuclear program (45 percent vs. 44 percent for Romney), but has a slight edge on dealing with the political instability in Egypt and Libya (47 percent vs. 42 percent).

Romney has a clear upper hand on China, with 49 percent trusting him to get tough on trade, versus 40 percent for Obama.

The Libya poll has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points, while the rest of the questions had a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points. 

— This story was first posted at 3:57 and has been updated.

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