President Barack Obama has opened a slight lead over Gov. Mitt Romney in the latest Monmouth University Poll of American voters. In a week when the news cycle has been dominated by violence against Americans overseas, voters say that the Democratic incumbent has done a better job than the Republican challenger responding to the situation and is better able to handle the nation’s foreign policy in general.
Currently, Obama holds a 7-point lead over Romney (48% to 41%) among all registered voters and a 3-point lead (48% to 45%) among likely voters. That compares to slimmer margins of 4 points and one point, respectively, in mid-August before both parties’ nominating conventions.
Fully 9-in-10 likely voters have heard about the recent violence and protests at U.S. embassies in Africa and the Middle East, including 61% who have heard a lot about this and 29% who have heard a little. When asked about the two presidential contenders’ public response to the situation, 39% of likely voters approve of how Obama has handled the situation to 27% who disapprove, with the remainder being unaware of the president’s response. Opinion is more divided on how Mitt Romney has dealt with the situation – just 25% of likely voters approve of the GOP nominee’s response to 29% who disapprove. The poll also found that a majority (51%) of likely voters trust Obama more than Romney (42%) to handle the nation’s foreign policy.
“If the past week was Mitt Romney’s opportunity to show how he would handle a foreign crisis, the GOP nominee did not put his best foot forward as far as voters are concerned,” said Patrick Murray, director of the New Jersey-based Monmouth University Polling Institute.
While foreign affairs have driven the recent campaign debate, the Monmouth University Poll also found that Obama has gained an advantage on domestic issues, particularly Social Security and Medicare. Half (50%) of likely voters now trust Obama to handle this issue compared to 42% who prefer Romney. Just one month ago, the two candidates were virtually tied among likely voters on this issue – 46% for Obama to 43% for Romney.
“These results suggest that Democratic attacks on the Ryan budget plan, and by association Mitt Romney, are gaining a small toehold among voters,” said Murray.
The poll also found Obama with a very slight edge on handling the economy and jobs. Nearly half (48%) of likely voters trust the incumbent on this issue compared to 45% who prefer Romney. One month ago this issue was tied at 45% for each candidate.
One area where the electorate remains evenly divided is the federal budget deficit and debt. The same number of likely voters trust Obama (47%) as Romney (47%) on this issue. One month ago, Romney had a slight 46% to 44% edge on this issue.
The Monmouth University Poll also asked registered voters about prospects for economic recovery regardless of the victor this November. About 3-in-10 (31%) say that it is very likely that the economy can actually be turned around in the next few years compared to 19% who say it is not likely. Another 43% say it is somewhat likely the economy can be turned around. Both Democrats (35%) and Republicans (34%) are more optimistic than independents (27%) about the economy’s eventual recovery.
To the extent that this year’s election is a referendum on the economy, 24% of registered voters say their family is better off now than when the economy hit bottom in early 2009 compared to 28% who are worse off. Nearly half (47%) say their family’s financial situation is unchanged. Obama voters (40%) are the most likely to say they are now better off, while Romney voters (51%) are the most likely to say they are now worse off. Undecided voters, though, are the most likely to say their family’s financial situation is about the same (60%). Among the remainder, 23% of undecided voters say they are now worse off and 12% say they are better off.
There has been little change in the personal ratings of the candidates over the past month. For the Democratic ticket, Barack Obama is viewed favorably by 46% of likely voters and unfavorably by 43%. Vice President Joe Biden gets a 34% favorable to 39% unfavorable rating. For the GOP team, Mitt Romney has a 41% favorable to 40% unfavorable rating among likely voters and Congressman Paul Ryan earns a 38% favorable to 33% unfavorable rating.
The latest Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone with 1,571 registered voters in the United States from Sept. 13 to 16. This sample has a margin of error of + 2.5 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.