WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s popularity among women, minorities and independents is giving him an early edge over his likely GOP rival, Mitt Romney, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
The Democratic president also earns strong marks on empathy, sincerity, likeability and social issues. But Americans are split over which candidate can best handle the economy, which might open pathways for Romney six months before the November election.
Half of registered voters say they would back Obama in November, while 42 percent favor Romney, the AP-GfK poll found. About a quarter of voters indicated they are persuadable, meaning they are undecided or could change their minds before Election Day.
Forty-one percent of voters say they are certain to vote for Obama, and 32 percent say they are locked in for Romney.
The nationwide poll of 1,004 adults comes as Romney is focusing heavily on fundraising after gaining endorsements from of all but one of his GOP rivals, and conservative voters are reminding politicians of their muscle. Republicans in Indiana on Tuesday ousted a six-term senator accused of being too friendly to Obama, and North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
In the AP-GfK poll, Americans give Obama an edge over Romney on numerous attributes, but handling the economy is a key exception. The public is divided over whether Obama or Romney would do a better job on the issue that strategists say will dominate the fall election. Forty-six percent prefer Obama on this topic, and 44 percent prefer Romney.
Romney, who oversaw the restructuring of several companies while at Bain Capital, says he understands the private sector better than Obama does. Democrats dispute the claim.
If the economic recovery continues to limp slowly, as it has in the past two months, Republicans say voters will become more open to Romney’s campaign.
On other issues: Half of adults say Obama is the stronger leader, while 39 percent choose Romney; Obama is more trusted to handle taxes and social issues, and to protect the country.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who has changed his stance on some important issues over the past 18 years, may need to shore up his image on questions of credibility and sincerity. More than half of adults say Obama is the one who more often says what he believes, while 31 percent choose Romney on that measure.