The poll shows President Obama opening up a nine-point lead against the GOP front-runner among voters nationally, and holding a 12-point lead among independents.

Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said in a statement that the poll introduced “specific negative information about Governor Romney immediately prior to asking the ballot match-up against President Obama.”

“Immediately prior to the President ballot test, this poll introduced information regarding Romney’s background and suggested 'he cut jobs,' 'he benefited from opportunities that are not available to other people,' 'he is not paying his fair share of taxes' and that his Mormon religion might be a factor not to support him,” Gitcho said.

“Their Presidential ballot test is pretty clearly tainted by the questions asked immediately prior to the ballot, resulting in what some would call a 'pushed' ballot. A pollster can’t ask or suggest specific negatives on a candidate immediately prior to a ballot test and expect to get anything other than a biased result.”

In the poll, questions 28 through 31 surveyed voter reactions to some of the criticisms Romney’s rivals have lodged against the former Massachusetts governor, such as whether he is paying his fair share of taxes, while question 32 is the head-to-head match-up question between Romney and Obama, which generated the headline “Obama holds edge over Romney” in the Washington Post story.

“Survey design is complicated,” Gitcho concluded. “But this is one of those times when a mistake was made and should not be repeated in the future.”

ABC polling director Gary Lang responded with a detailed defense of the poll, writing in a statement that “it’s hardly the newest game in town for aggrieved parties to try to dismiss survey results they don’t like.”

“The poll we’ve released today included balanced questions on recent issues involving Mitt Romney’s wealth, taxpaying and business background,” Lang said. “Each was neutrally presented – asking, for instance whether he 'is or is not paying his fair share of taxes,' whether he ‘achieved the American dream' or 'benefitted from opportunities that are not available to other people,' and whether he did more to 'create jobs' or to 'cut jobs' at Bain Capital.”

Lang argued that Romney received positive marks in the poll for his business experience, that the questions were asked neutrally, and that the issues were in regard to “salient attributes on which public attitudes matter.”

The statement also noted other polls which had produced similar results.

— This story was updated at 4:48 p.m.