President Obama and Mitt Romney run neck-and-neck both overall and on the economic issues that Americans say matter most in choosing the next president, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll released early Tuesday.
Obama leads Romney among registered voters, 49 percent to 46 percent, within the survey's margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points for that subgroup. In the previous poll, conducted in early April, Obama led Romney, 51 percent to 44 percent, though the change between the surveys is not statistically significant.
In early April, Obama's slight lead over Romney was powered by a 19-point advantage among female voters, but in the current survey, Obama's lead among this group has narrowed to 7 percentage points.
The poll shows an enthusiasm gap that favors Obama. Forty-eight percent of a broader sample of Americans who picked Obama in the horse-race question describe themselves as "very enthusiastic about supporting him," more than twice the percentage of Romney supporters who express the same level of excitement. Overall, a quarter of Romney supporters say they are "not so enthusiastic" or "not enthusiastic" about supporting him, while only 9 percent of Obama's supporters say they are similarly uninspired.
Asked which candidate they trusted to do a better job handling the economy -- overwhelmingly the most important issue in the campaign, according to the poll -- Americans are split virtually down the middle: 47 percent choose Romney, 46 percent Obama. That is virtually unchanged from April, when Romney held a 4-point lead on this question. The two candidates are also even on the issue of creating jobs, with Obama posting an insignificant, 3-point edge -- equal to last month. By an 8-point margin, Americans think Obama "better understands the economic problems people in this country are having.
But only 17 percent of Americans describe the state of the nation's economy as "excellent" or "good," and Americans are more likely to say they are worse off financially (30 percent) than better off (16 percent) since Obama became president. A majority, 53 percent, say they are in "about the same shape." But Americans are split as to whether they would have been better off had Romney been president since 2009.
Roughly half -- 49 percent -- say they think George W. Bush is more responsible for the country's economic problems, compared to 34 percent who blame Obama. In January of this year, slightly more Americans blamed Bush, 54 percent, to 29 percent for Obama.
The past 48 hours have brought a new focus on Romney's past experience at the private-equity firm Bain Capital, but the poll shows a majority of Americans say that history is not a major factor in their vote. Asked whether "Romney's work buying and restructuring companies before he went into politics" will be a major reason to support or oppose Romney, Americans are split, with equal percentages (21 percent) saying that is a major reason for support or opposition. Fifty-four percent, however, say it is not a major factor.
Overall, 47 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while 49 percent disapprove. That is statistically unchanged from Obama's 50-percent approval rating in early April.
The poll was conducted May 17-20, surveying 1,004 adults. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points. For the horse-race matchup, there were 874 registered voters.
Last week, pollster Gary Langer, who produces surveys for ABC News, told the American Association for Public Opinion Research's annual conference in Orlando, Fla., that "I think we tend to overemphasize" horse-race numbers in public-opinion polls. "They give you the score of the game," Langer told the conference, "but they don't predict the outcome."
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll is also expected to be released later Tuesday.