Survey Puts Obama and Romney at 46% Each ; Economic Conditions Give Ammunition to President and Expected Opponent
Jeff Zeleny; Allison Kopicki, International Herald Tribune
The president enters the general election stage with significant vulnerabilities, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.
A rising number of Americans see improvement in the economy, but a persistent wariness about their own financial circumstances is allowing Mitt Romney a chance to convince voters that he could improve their economic prospects more than President Barack Obama, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
The poll found the two men locked in a tight race, with each gathering the support of 46 percent. The share of voters who said they were confident in Mr. Romney's ability to make the right decisions on the economy and to be commander in chief was about equal to the percentage expressing confidence in Mr. Obama.
Even as the United States rebounds from the recession, its lingering effects are reflected in the adversities facing families. Nearly two-thirds of Americans were concerned about paying for their housing, the poll found, and one in five people with mortgages said they were underwater. Four in 10 parents said they had had to alter expectations for the type of college they could afford for their children. And more than one-third of respondents said high gasoline prices had created serious financial hardships.
The general election match between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney is opening with evidence that economic conditions are providing ammunition for both candidates. For Mr. Obama, there is a gradually growing perception that the general outlook is turning brighter, and for Mr. Romney, there are those individuals who still do not feel substantial improvement in their own lives. As many voters thought they would do better under Mr. Romney as under Mr. Obama, but slightly more said they would do worse if the president was re- elected.
With less than seven months before Election Day, a furious scramble is under way by Democrats to define their opponent. Mr. Romney's bruises from the Republican primary fight were evident -- only 29 percent of voters had a favorable view of him -- but more than one-third said they had yet to form an opinion, creating a chance for him to introduce himself as a fix-it man who could improve the economic circumstances of Americans.
"We need a president who has a business background, and Mitt Romney's business background is tremendous," Michael Larson, 55, a salesman and independent voter from Minneapolis, said Wednesday in a follow-up interview.
While the poll showed Mr. Romney had a significant entree with voters who were frustrated at the direction of the country, Mr. Obama may have the upper hand when it comes to economic policy debates. A majority of voters said upper-income Americans paid less than their fair share of taxes, while half said capital gains and dividends should be taxed at the same rate as income from work -- a disparity highlighted by Mr. Romney's own effective tax rate of about 15 percent.
A week after dispatching his chief Republican rival, Rick Santorum, Mr. Romney has solidified support within his party. A majority of Republican primary voters, 54 percent, said they wanted to see Mr. Romney become the nominee, including a plurality of evangelical Christians, a group that formed Mr. Santorum's base of support.
The poll highlighted a lack of strong excitement among some Republican voters for Mr. Romney's candidacy, with just one in three saying they would enthusiastically support him in November. While that was hardly a resounding endorsement, it may be a temporary shortcoming that can be overcome by the fierce resistance among conservative Republicans to Mr. Obama.
Mr. Romney also faces considerable hurdles as he begins presenting his views to a wider audience. The poll found that more than 6 in 10 voters thought Mr. …