WASHINGTON (AP) — A majority of Americans disapproves of how President Barack Obama is handling the economy, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. The pessimism hurts his re-election chances as the November election looms, with the poll showing that Republican challenger Mitt Romney has exploited those concerns and moved into a virtual tie in the race.
Both candidates are taking their economic-focused messages Thursday and Friday directly to Hispanic leaders, facing a large gathering of the increasingly influential voting bloc for the first time since immigration was thrust into the forefront of the presidential contest last week.
The new poll indicates they face a tough crowd. Months of declining job creation have left the public increasingly glum, with only 3 out of 10 adults saying the U.S. is headed in the right direction. Five months before the election, the economy remains Obama's top liability.
Obama has lost the narrow lead he held just a month ago among registered voters. In the new poll, 47 percent say they will vote for the president and 44 percent 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 56 percent believe Obama will win a second term.
Romney on Thursday stuck to economic issues in his speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in an attempt to draw Hispanic voters away from their traditional support for Democrats.
Obama will speak to the same group Friday, hoping to ride the enthusiasm created last week by his announcement of a plan to change the immigration system to make it easier for hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants with roots in the U.S. to avoid deportation.
In his speech, Romney said Obama "has failed to address immigration reform" and said he would be more selective as to who can legally come to the United States. He said he would "staple a green card to your diploma" for immigrants who earn an advanced degree in the U.S.
Romney added that his administration would complete a 2,000-mile (3,218-kilometer) border fence along Mexico to help stem illegal immigration.
Romney has struggled in recent days to clarify his immigration policy as he pivots from the harsh rhetoric that defined the months long Republican primary to a general election audience in which Latinos will play a critical role. At least 1 in 6 Americans is of Hispanic descent, according to the Census Bureau.
The campaign stakes are high not only for states with larger Hispanic populations such as Florida, Nevada and Colorado, but for a growing number of other battlegrounds — Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia, among them — where even a modest shift among Latino voters could be significant.
With his Republican nomination now ensured, Romney has succeeded in unifying the party, including many skeptical conservatives, behind him. Now he must reach out to independents and others while keeping the focus on making the election a referendum on Obama's handling of the shaky economic recovery.
The new poll shows about half — 49 percent — approve of how Obama is handling his job as president, dropping him below the 50 percent mark he was above in May. Disapproval of Obama is highest — 55 percent — 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.
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.
Besides weak job growth and high unemployment, Obama is at the mercy of European countries struggling with a debt crisis that has already sent ripples across the Atlantic.
The poll shows a majority believes Obama will still be re-elected, a shift from an even split on the question seven months ago. In December, 21 percent of Republicans said they thought Obama would win re-election; that's risen to 31 percent now. And among independents, the share saying Obama will win has climbed from 49 percent to 60 percent. Among Democrats, it was 75 percent in both polls.
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.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
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