Fewer Americans believe the economy is getting better and a majority disapproves of how President Barack Obama is handling it, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
Meanwhile, new financial filings reveal that although major donors supporting the president and Republican challenger Mitt Romney spent millions of dollars last month on their respective candidate, outside political groups helping Romney are reaping a growing share of the largesse.
With election day less than five months away, the new poll shows that Romney has exploited concerns about the economy and moved into a virtually even position with the president.
Three months of declining job creation have left the public increasingly glum, with only 3 out of 10 adults saying the country is headed in the right direction. Five months before the election, the economy remains Obama's top liability.
"I'm not going to vote for Obama," said Raymond Back, a 60-year-old manufacturing plant manager from North Olmsted, Ohio, one of the most competitive states in this election. "It's just the wrong thing to go. I don't know what Romney is going to do, but this isn't the right way."
Obama has lost the narrow lead he had held just a month ago among registered voters. In the new poll, 47 % say they will vote for the president and 44 % for Romney, a difference that is not statistically significant. The poll also shows that Romney has recovered well from a bruising Republican primary, with more of his supporters saying they are certain to vote for him now.
Still, in a measure of Romney's own vulnerabilities, even some voters who say they support Romney believe the president will still be re-elected. Of all adults polled, 56 % believe Obama will win a second term.
With his Republican nomination now ensured, Romney has succeeded in unifying the party behind him and in maintaining a singular focus on making the election a referendum on Obama's handling of the economy.
The poll is not good news for the president, and it reflects fluctuations in the economy, which has shown both strength and weakness since it began to recover from the recent recession. The new survey illustrates how an ideologically divided country and a stumbling recovery have driven the two men into a tight match.
About half (49 %) approve of how Obama is handling his job as president, dropping him below the 50 % mark he was above in May. Disapproval of Obama is highest (55 %) for his handling of the economy. Still, registered voters are split virtually evenly on whether Romney or Obama would do a better job improving it.
Obama's overall 49 % approval rating is not unlike the approval ratings George W. Bush faced in June 2004 during his re-election campaign when he and his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, were also locked in a dead heat.
The polling numbers come as no surprise to either camp. Both Romney and Obama advisers have anticipated a close contest that will be driven largely by economic conditions. The Obama camp is busy trying to define Romney, hoping it is reaching more independents.
Besides weak job growth and still high unemployment, Obama is at the mercy of European countries struggling with a debt crisis that has already sent ripples across the Atlantic. At the same time, there are signs that the housing industry may be on the mend. U.S. builders started work on more single-family homes in May and requested the most permits to build homes and apartments in three and half years.
Those types of crosscurrents are also evident in politics. While preferences for November are evenly split, a majority believes Obama will still be re-elected, a shift from an even split on the question seven months ago. In December, 21 % of Republicans said they thought Obama would win re-election, that's risen to 31% now. And among independents, the share saying Obama will win has climbed from 49 % to 60 %. Among Democrats, it was 75 % in both polls.
The new financial disclosures posted late Wednesday night by a Republican "super" political committee formed by veteran strategist Karl Rove show the organization he formed to help Republican causes group reaped US$4.6 million in May. That will aid Romney, as will a separate US$8 million boost announced earlier in the day from another super PAC, Restore Our Future.
Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash but can't coordinate their efforts with the candidates they support.
Both of the multimillion-dollar Republican totals are impressive boosts from a month earlier and are signs that Republican political committees are widening the financial gap over their struggling Democratic Party rivals. This raises the specter that Obama, who broke fundraising records four years ago by hauling in US$ 750 million, may be the first incumbent president to be out-raised by his opponent.
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted June 14-18 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,007 adults nationwide, including 878 registered voters. Results from the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is 4.2 points for registered voters.