published Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

AP-GfK poll shows White House race still tight

President Barack Obama laughs as he visits with supporters following his campaign stop at the Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nev., Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
President Barack Obama laughs as he visits with supporters following his campaign stop at the Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nev., Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

JOSH LEDERMAN and TOM RAUM

WASHINGTON (AP) — For all the attention it got, Republican Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate has not altered the race against President Barack Obama. The campaign remains neck and neck with less than three months to go, a new AP-GfK poll shows.

Overall, 47 percent of registered voters said they planned to back Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in November, while 46 percent favored Romney and Ryan. That's not much changed from a June AP-GfK survey, when the split was 47 percent for the president to 44 percent for Romney.

At the same time, there's a far wider gap when people were asked who they thought would win. Some 58 percent of adults said they expected Obama to be re-elected, while just 32 percent said they thought he'd be voted out of office.

After just over a week on the campaign trail, Ryan has a 38 percent favorable rating among adults, while 34 percent see him unfavorably. Among registered voters, his numbers are slightly better — 40 percent favorable to 34 percent unfavorable. Ryan remains unknown to about a quarter of voters.

Romney put the 42-year-old conservative chairman of the House Budget Committee on the ticket Aug. 11. The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Aug. 16-20.

Romney and Ryan will be crowned as the GOP presidential and vice presidential nominees next week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The Democrats hold their convention the following week in Charlotte, N.C.

The closely locked contest reflects deep partisan divisions across the country.

Among true independents, those who say they do not lean toward either party, the share of undecided voters is declining, with each candidate picking up new support at about the same pace. However, Romney maintains a small advantage with the group, with the backing of 41 percent of independents to Obama's 30 percent. Some 21 percent still say they support neither candidate.

Among all voters, 23 percent are undecided or say they have not yet committed to their candidate.

One independent voter, Frank Nugent, a 76-year-old retired sales manager from Pittsburg, Calif., said he always gives both parties a chance to win him over — but not this time.

"Considering what the opposition is like, I can do nothing else but vote for Obama," he said. Part of his dislike for the GOP ticket is due to Ryan, he said, describing Romney's ticket mate as "further right that the bulk of the Republican Party." But while he'll vote for Obama, Nugent said he's disappointed in Obama's record.

Robert Hamrick, 39, from Cedartown, Ga., is going the other way. Although a registered Democrat, he plans to vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket, claiming Obama has been deceptive and failed to make good on his promises on the economy, jobs and government debt.

As for Ryan, Hamrick said: "He's very smart. He knows his stuff. He knows the finance. He can take apart Obamacare with ease." Hamrick is a former nursing home manager who left his job about four years ago in hopes of finding one with more security — and has been mostly unemployed ever since.

The frail economy, with the unemployment rate hovering at 8.3 percent more than three years after the deep recession officially ended, remains the No. 1 issue. Nine in 10 call it important for them and half of voters say it is "extremely important," outpacing all other issues tested by at least 10 percentage points. Two-thirds in the poll described the economy as poor.

Registered voters split about evenly between the two candidates on whom they'd trust more to handle the economy, with 48 percent favoring Romney and 44 percent Obama. They are also about evenly divided on who would do more to create jobs, 47 percent for Romney to 43 percent for Obama. Among independent voters, Romney has a big lead over the president on handling the economy — 46 percent to 27 percent.

Romney often appeals to his business background as proof that he could better manage the federal government, and the poll finds that overall, voters are more apt to trust him to handle the federal budget deficit over Obama, by a 50 percent to 40 percent margin.

But it's unlikely that Ryan's background in authoring Republican budgets will boost them as an issue in the campaign. The share of adults saying the budget deficit was deeply important to them dropped from 75 percent in February to 69 percent in the new poll.

Among those who rate the economy as the top concern is Mattise Fraser, a 52-year-old Democrat whose hometown of Charlotte is gearing up for the Democratic gathering. "We're in a crisis situation now," said Fraser, who said she plans to vote for Obama. She says she's a homemaker — but not by choice. "The economy is crazy. There's no jobs."

Obama holds a clear edge among voters on handling social issues such as abortion, 52 percent to 35 percent, and a narrow one on handling Medicare, 48 percent to 42 percent. Medicare has grabbed a lot of attention as an issue lately, with Ryan's proposals to partly change the program drawing criticism from Obama and other Democrats.

Of those who said Medicare is an extremely important issue, 49 percent say they plan to vote for Obama and 44 percent for Romney.

Obama's approval rating held steady at about an even split, with 49 percent saying they approve of the way he's handling his job and another 49 percent saying they disapprove.

The president remains more positively viewed than Romney, and continues to be seen as more empathetic. Some 53 percent of adults hold a "favorable" opinion of the president, compared with just 44 percent who view Romney favorably. Obama also held a commanding lead among voters as the candidate who better "understands the problems of people like you," 51 percent to 36 percent for Romney. Some 50 percent see him as a stronger leader than Romney; 41 percent see Romney as stronger.

Michelle Obama remains more popular than her husband. Sixty-four percent of adults view her favorably and just 26 percent unfavorably, although that's down from 70 percent favorable in May. Ann Romney's favorable rating is mostly unchanged since May, with 40 percent viewing her favorably, 27 percent unfavorably and nearly a third declining to say.

Thirty-five percent overall say things in the nation are heading in the "right direction," up from 31 percent in June.

Melinda Cody, a 45-year-old undecided voter in San Diego, sees positives and negatives with both candidates — and says she'll vote for the candidate who does the least bullying. "When they just run a negative campaign, it backfires," she said.

The poll involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,006 adults nationwide, including 885 registered voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9, while it's 4.1 points for registered voters.

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