The state of the presidential race remains unchanged over the past month, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that shows Americans unhappy with the state of the nation's economy and President Obama's stewardship of it, but also wary of Mitt Romney and his prior experience in business.
The poll's topline result shows the two candidates in a virtual tie. Obama holds a modest, statistically insignificant lead over Romney, 47 percent to 44 percent. That is virtually identical to the May survey, in which Obama led Romney 47 percent to 43 percent.
Obama's vote-share among registered voters matches his approval rating among all adults surveyed: 47 percent. Roughly as many Americans, 48 percent, approve of Obama's job performance as disapprove.
But on the economy, Obama's numbers remain low, underscoring his continued vulnerability. Fifty-three percent of Americans surveyed disapprove of the job he is doing handling the economy, compared to just 42 percent who approve. That is unchanged from last month but slightly worse than earlier this year.
Obama also performs poorly on other economic questions. Just 35 percent of respondents said they think the economy will get better over the next year. Asked whether the president's policies have helped, hurt, or made no difference on economic conditions in the country, voters's responses divide evenly among the three choices (32 percent, 33 percent, and 32 percent, respectively).
Health care is seen as another weakness for the president: 41 percent of Americans said they think the 2010 health care law was a bad idea, compared to 35 percent who think it was a good idea.
Despite these shortcomings, Obama's personal popularity endures. In the poll, 48 percent of Americans said they have a positive opinion of him, compared with the 38 percent who have a negative opinion.
His popularity is also reflected in the fact that, despite his upside-down approval ratings on the economy, three-in-five Americans think the current economic climate is a situation Obama inherited, compared just only 26 percent who think his policies are mostly responsible for them; 11 percent volunteered that it was some of both.
Romney trails in badly on the issue of personal popularity. Only a third of those polled had positive opinions of the presumptive Republican nominee, compared to 39 percent who had negative opinions. The net-negative spread earned by Romney (minus-6) is nearly as poor as George W. Bush's rating in the new poll (minus-9).
"If the election is a referendum on health care or the economy, the odds work to Romney’s favor," Democratic pollster Peter Hart told MSNBC.com. Hart conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
Hart added, "Obama is the odds-on favorite if it's a referendum on the personal aspects."
The poll found that the vast majority of Obama voters say that their vote is for Obama, rather than against Romney. But Romney supporters are more likely to say theirs is a vote against Obama than for their candidate.
Americans are hearing more about Romney's business career. Asked how the view Romney's "experience managing a firm that specializes in buying, restructuring, and selling companies," slightly more respondents said it makes them feel more negative (28 percent) about him than did more positive (23 percent). The split is similar to the first time this question was asked in January. But fewer of those surveyed now say that Romney's experience makes no difference, suggesting that the issue is more salient now than it was early this year during the GOP primaries.
The poll was conducted June 20-24, surveying 1,000 adults. The margin of error for the overall poll is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The poll included interviews with 819 registered voters for the horse-race questions; those results carry a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 points.