A new poll finds President Obama in a close race with GOP challenger Mitt Romney nationally, but the president holding a strong lead among swing-state voters ahead of this week’s first debate.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday shows Obama with 49 percent support among registered voters to Romney’s 44, with the president up 49-47 among likely voters.

But among swing-state voters surveyed, Obama holds a more commanding lead, with 52 percent support among likely voters to Romney's 41.


Voters say they expect the president to win Wednesday night’s debate and go on to take the November election. Fifty-six percent say Obama will perform better in the Denver debate, with 29 percent for Romney.

Sixty-three percent of registered voters expect Obama to win a second term to 31 percent picking Romney. That figure marks a turnaround from the same poll last year, which found Americans predicting by an 18-point margin that Obama would not be reelected.

The poll finds that on the economy voters are split between Romney and Obama, with 47 percent preferring each candidate on the key issue this election. But voters’ views on the state of the economy also show a slight improvement, bolstering Obama on the issue.

Obama is still underwater on the economy, with 47 percent approving of his handling of the issue to 52 percent disapproving, but the 47 mark is his highest in two years.

Overall, 50 percent of those surveyed approve of Obama’s job performance to 46 who disapprove.

The percentage of voters who are confident the economy will be on the right track economically under a second Obama administration also bumped higher, but still falls short of a majority. Forty-seven percent express confidence the economy will improve, with 53 percent less confident. In August, the same poll found 42 percent confident the country would get back on track economically if Obama were reelected, to 58 percent unconfident.

But, 60 percent of registered voters still say the country is headed in the wrong direction, with 38 percent saying the country was on the right track. That figure is down, though, from 69 percent who said the nation was on the wrong track in the same poll taken in August.

And the economy offers the best hopes for Romney. Fifty-one percent say they are confident he would get the economy on track if elected to 47 percent less confident. Seventy-eight percent of registered voters say they worry about the economy, with six in 10 voters worried about their own family’s financial situation.

But Obama scores better when voters are asked who would better help middle-class families.

Sixty-six percent of voters say Obama would do more to aid the middle class, with 17 percent saying his policies would aid the wealthy. Still, at 57 percent, a majority of voters say Romney’s policies would favor the rich with 35 percent saying they would help the middle class.

Voters also see Romney’s wealth more positively, with 51 percent of registered voters saying it is a positive to 42 percent who say it is a negative. Earlier this year in February, Romney was underwater on the issue with 46 percent negative to 43 positive, suggesting that the Obama campaign's attacks on Romney’s record at private-equity firm Bain Capital and calls for him to disclose more of his tax returns might be falling short with voters.

Republicans also have targeted a wave of anti-American protests in the Middle East and public discord between the administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to argue that Obama has been weak on foreign policy and failed to support America’s allies in the region. But the poll finds Obama with a slight edge on international affairs, with registered voters backing his handling of the issue by 49 percent to 44.

Voters say Obama knows enough about world affairs to be an effective president by a 64-30 margin. For Romney, voters say he knows enough about international relations to serve (51-43).

Obama continues to hold a lead on likability, with 62 percent saying he is more friendly than Romney (29).

The Washington Post/ABC News poll was conducted from Sept. 26 to 29 and has a 4-point margin of error.