Americans are feeling markedly better about the country's future and about Barack Obama's job performance, but the President's re-election race against Republican Mitt Romney remains neck-and-neck as Election Day in November creeps ever closer, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
Buoyed by political conventions last month, Obama's approval rating is back above 50% for the first time since May, and the share of Americans who think the country is moving in the right direction is at its highest level since just after the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
Romney lost his pre-convention edge on the economy as his campaign was distracted by criticism of his hasty response to the Obama administration's handling of the eruption of violence in Egypt and Libya last week and his failure to mention the war in Afghanistan or thank the troops in his speech at the Republican convention.
The poll results vividly underscore the importance that turnout will play in determining the victor: Among all adults, Obama has a commanding lead, favored by 52% of Americans to just 37% for Romney. Yet among those most likely to vote, the race is tight.
Obama is supported by 47% of likely voters and Romney by 46%, promising an all-out fight to the finish by the two campaigns to stoke enthusiasm among core supporters and dominate get-out-the-vote operations.
Americans have been increasingly focused on the Presidential race since the two candidates barreled out of their summer conventions into the fall campaign: Nearly three-fourths of adults say they're paying close attention now, up modestly from earlier in the summer.
And with early voting scheduled to be under way in two dozen states by week's end, just 17% of likely voters remain undecided or say that they might change their minds.
The two candidates run about even in the poll on who would best handle the economy or the federal budget deficit, but Obama has narrow advantages on protecting the country, social issues and health care.
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 13-17, 2012, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,512 adults nationwide, including 1,282 registered voters and 807 likely voters.
Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.2%age points, for registered voters it is 3.4%age points and likely voters it is 4.3 percentage points.