WASHINGTON (AFP) – Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney pulled ahead of President Barack Obama in a poll of registered voters Tuesday, as public disapproval over the faltering US economy grows.
By 49 to 46 percent, Romney outpolled Obama in a head-to-head election, according to the survey by The Washington Post and ABC News.
That margin was within the 3.5 percent sampling error, but nevertheless suggests that the incumbent president could be vulnerable as he tries to win reelection next year.
Obama led all other potential Republican challengers in the survey, coming out on top in hypothetical head-to-head showdowns against Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Sarah Palin.
Romney, the putative frontrunner in a field of several Republican contenders, lost the party's presidential nomination to Senator John McCain in 2008.
The millionaire businessman, who has made America's foundering economy a central campaign theme, has been campaigning for the 2012 nomination ever since.
He officially launched his presidential campaign last week at a rally held in the key state of New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
Obama said at a press conference Tuesday that he knows there is "enormous work to do" to strengthen the recovery after the worst recession in decades.
"I'm concerned that the recovery we're on is not producing jobs as quickly as I wanted to happen," he said at the press event marking this week's summit with Germany's Angela Merkel.
Romney and other Republican challengers have lambasted the president for remarks last week that they said trivialized the economic pain felt by jobless Americans.
Obama last week said that the economy had hit a "bump" on the road to recovery, as put the best spin possible on disappointing employment figures that showed lower than anticipated jobs growth.
Tuesday's poll found Americans broadly pessimistic mood with gas prices nearly at all-time highs, home values on the decline and concern growing over the pace of the economic recovery.
By a two-to-one margin, Americans said the country is pretty seriously on the wrong track, and nine in 10 rated the economy in negative terms.
Meanwhile, nearly six in 10 said they felt that the economy has not yet started to recover, despite official data showing that an economic rebound is underway.
Overall, about six Americans in 10 gave Obama negative marks on his handling of the economy and the deficit, and nearly two-thirds of political independents disapprove of the president's handling of the economy.
The Post-ABC telephone survey randomly polled 1,002 adults, between June 2 and June 5, and had a plus or minus 3.5 percent sampling error.
The poll found voters -- especially the critically important independent voters not allied with either Democrats or Republicans -- unhappy with the president's performance.
His relatively low poll numbers are in stark contrast to early May, when a "bin Laden bounce" raised his job approval level to nearly the highest of his presidency.
US Navy SEALs shot and killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 2 in the northern Pakistani town of Abbottabad, leading to spontaneous outbursts of dancing in the street in America and that sizable uptick in Obama's poll numbers.