Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a slight lead over his rivals for the Republican nomination, and if the general election were held today, he would be deadlocked with President Obama, according to a new national CBS News/New York Times poll released late on Wednesday.
Romney leads former House Speaker Newt Gingrich among likely voters in their state's Republican primary or caucus, 28 percent to 21 percent. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, are in a virtual tie for third place, with 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is at 7 percent, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was at 2 percent; Huntsman dropped out of the race on Monday, while the poll was in the field.
Romney is seen by GOP primary voters as the overwhelming choice when asked which candidate has the best chance of beating Obama in the general election: 56 percent tap Romney, compared to 17 percent who prefer Gingrich's electability.
General-election matchups among all registered voters show the reason why Romney's electability argument has been winning over Republicans through the first two nominating contests: He runs best against Obama, tying him at 45 percent apiece. Paul is second-best, according to the poll, trailing Obama by just 4 points. Obama leads Gingrich, Perry, Santorum, and the erstwhile Huntsman by double-digits, the poll shows.
Earlier this month, polls showed Paul and Romney were both in virtual ties with Obama.
The parity between Obama and the top GOP candidates comes amid better poll data on Americans' perception of the economy. For the first time in nearly a year, more Americans said they think the economy is getting better than said think it is getting worse. Still, nearly half believe the economy is staying the same at a time when 79 percent describe the economy as being in bad shape at the moment.
Obama's approval rating on the economy has ticked up to a paltry 40 percent, and only 35 percent believe that Obama has made real progress in fixing the economy. But that is an improvement from last month, when just 28 percent thought he had made real progress.
The CBS News/New York Times poll was conducted Jan. 12-17, surveying 1,154 adults. The margin of error is +/- 2.9 percent. For the subsample of 1,021 registered voters, the margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent. For the subsample of 340 voters who said they plan to vote in their state's GOP nominating contest, the margin of error is +/- 5.3 percent.