President Barack Obama has taken away Mitt Romney's long-standing advantage as the candidate voters say is most likely to restore the economy and create jobs, according to the latest poll by The New York Times and CBS News, which found a modest sense of optimism among Americans that White House policies are working.
But while the climate for Obama has improved since midsummer, and Romney has failed to shift sentiment decisively in his favor, the poll, released Friday, found that the presidential race is narrowly divided. The outcome could still turn on unexpected events and how the candidates are perceived after their three debates next month.
With their conventions behind them and the general election campaign fully engaged, the Democratic Party is viewed more favorably than the Republican Party. The poll also found that more likely voters give an edge to Obama on foreign policy, Medicare and addressing the challenges of the middle class. The only major issue on which Romney held an advantage was handling the federal budget deficit.
The nationwide poll was conducted during a turbulent week in the campaign, with a new torrent of television ads from Romney, a disappointing jobs report for Obama and both candidates reacting to deadly violence in Egypt, Libya and across the Arab world.
Among those considered most likely to vote, the president was the choice of 49 percent to 46 percent for Romney, including those who said they
The president holds a 10-point advantage on who would do a better job handling foreign policy, with 4 in 10 voters very confident of Obama's ability to handle an international crisis, compared with about one-quarter who say the same about Romney.
The survey was largely conducted before foreign affairs took on heightened importance when the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans there were killed Tuesday.
While the poll reflects a prevailing sentiment among Romney's advisers that he must find a way to change the dynamics of the race, the findings also highlight a lingering discontent running through the electorate.
A slim majority of likely voters still disapprove of how Obama has handled the economy and 7 in 10 rank the economy as fairly bad or very bad.
The president's job approval rating of 51 percent among all Americans marks the first time he has surpassed a majority in the poll by The Times and CBS News since immediately after Osama bin Laden was killed in May 2011. The number of adults who say the country is on the right track has increased to 40 percent, though 54 percent say it is on the wrong track.
The coalition that helped sweep Obama into office four years ago is at least partly intact. He holds a 12-point advantage among women, while Romney holds the upper hand among men by 8 percentage points.
But independent voters, who supported Obama by 8 percentage points in 2008, are now breaking for Romney by 6 percentage points.
The nationwide telephone survey was conducted from Sept. 8 through 12 among 1,170 registered voters, including those who were weighted by their responses to questions about voting history, attention to the campaign and likelihood of voting.