With the general-election campaign beginning to take shape, President Obama holds clear advantages over Mitt Romney on personal attributes and a number of key issues, but remains vulnerable to discontent with the pace of the economic recovery, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Obama has double-digit leads over the likely Republican presidential nominee on who would do a better job of protecting the middle class, addressing women's issues, handling international affairs and dealing with health care.
On personal traits, the president's edge is even bigger: He has a better than 2-to-1 advantage as the more friendly and likable of the two.
Romney faces a huge deficit among female voters, one that more than negates his advantage among men and represents one of the biggest challenges he and his advisers face as they turn toward the November election. Obama's edge among women gives him a clear lead among all registered voters in a match-up with Romney.
But on the two most pressing issues of the campaign - the economy and jobs - the contest is considerably more competitive, with about as many trusting Romney on the issues as Obama. Despite positive economic indicators, Americans remain deeply pessimistic about the overall direction of the country and largely consider the economy still mired in a recession. The Romney campaign is hoping to take advantage by making the contest about Obama's performance on these concerns.
Obama's overall approval rating stands at 50%, but he draws negative marks on how he has dealt with the economy and the recent increase in gasoline prices. Romney holds a double-digit lead over Obama on just one issue tested in the poll: who would better deal with the federal budget deficit.
If a Romney-Obama match-up were held today, registered voters would divide 51% for the president to 44% for the former Massachusetts governor. That is similar to the edge Obama held in a Post-ABC poll in February; the two were more evenly matched in March.
A wide gender gap underlies the current state of the race. Romney is up eight percentage points among male voters but trails by 19 among women. Among independent voters, one of the most watched groups in the electorate, the two men are closely paired, with 48% supporting Romney and 46% backing Obama.
In addition to his big lead among women - Obama won that demographic by 13 points in 2008 - the president is moving to secure other key elements of his winning coalition. As he did four years ago, he has overwhelming support from African Americans - 90% back his reelection effort - and he has a big lead among those ages 18 to 29.
Obama continues to trail Romney by a big margin among white voters without college degrees, and he loses white men with college degrees by double digits, 57-39%. He counters with a big lead over Romney among white women who have a college degree or more education.
Obama has argued that the economy is recovering, if slowly, but pessimism remains pervasive nearly four years after the economic collapse.
(In Exclusive Partnership with The Washington Post)