A second national poll released Tuesday shows President Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, locked in a close race with less than six months until Election Day. The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Obama leading Romney, 47 percent to 43 percent, statistically unchanged from last month's survey but still far from the safe territory an incumbent hopes to occupy at this stage of the race.
Last month, Obama led Romney, 49 percent to 43 percent, equal to the 6-point advantage Obama has enjoyed in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll since the start of the year.
The poll does show a significant gender gap, as have other surveys of the race. Romney leads by 9 percentage points among men, 49 percent to 40 percent, but female voters prefer Obama by a larger margin, 53 percent to 38 percent.
Obama captures 39 percent of the white vote -- compared to 52 percent for Romney -- and he is virtually tied with the former Massachusetts governor among other key groups, including seniors and the voters who say they are most interested. Obama holds a slight lead among independents, 44 percent to 36 percent.
Pollsters point out that the door remains wide-open for Romney. Just a third of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction, unchanged over the past three months. Obama's approval rating remains below 50 percent -- 48 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove -- and a slight majority disapproves of how he is handling the economy. Just 31 percent of Americans say Obama has made the economic downturn has made it better, fewer than the 37 percent who think he has made it worse.
"Obama’s chances for re-election ... are no better than 50-50," Democratic pollster Peter Hart told MSNBC.com. Hart conducts the NBC News/Wall Street Journal with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. McInturff said that the economy "feels a tick worse" now than it did earlier this year, according to the poll.
But Romney has yet to take full advantage of Obama's weaknesses on the economy. In fact, Americans largely lack faith in either man on that issue. Asked how much confidence they have in Obama and Romney to improve the economy, 41 percent said they have "no confidence at all" in Obama, and 36 percent said the same for Romney. Combining those who said they are "only somewhat confident," 76 percent have little to no confidence in Romney, compared to 67 percent who feel that way about Obama. Just 32 percent say they are "extremely" or "quite" confident in the incumbent's ability to improve the economy, which is more than the 19 percent who express the same levels of confidence about Romney.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was conducted May 16-20, surveying 1,000 adults, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percent. For the horse-race question, there were 840 registered voters, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.4 percent.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll released earlier Tuesday showed Obama and Romney in a statistical tie.
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