WASHINGTON — Republican Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate has not altered the race against President Barack Obama, and the campaign remains very close with less than three months to go, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows.
Overall, 47 percent of registered voters said they planned to back Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in November while 46 percent favored Romney and Ryan. That’s a statistical tie not much changed from an AP-GfK survey in June, when the split was 47 percent for the president to 44 percent for Romney.
At the same time, there’s a far wider gap when people were asked who they thought would win. Some 58 percent of adults said they expected Obama to be re-elected, while just 32 percent said they thought he’d be voted out of office.
Obama’s approval rating held steady at about an even split, with 49 percent saying they approve of the way he’s handling his job and another 49 percent saying they disapprove.
The president remains more positively viewed than Romney and continues to be seen as more empathetic. Some 53 percent of adults hold a “favorable” opinion of the president, compared with just 44 percent who view Romney favorably. Obama also held a commanding lead among voters as the candidate who better “understands the problems of people like you,” 51 percent to 36 percent for Romney. Some 50 percent see him as a stronger leader than Romney; 41 percent see Romney as stronger.
After just over a week on the campaign trail, Ryan has a 38 percent favorable rating among adults, while 34 percent see him unfavorably. Among registered voters, his numbers are slightly better — 40 percent favorable to 34 percent unfavorable. Ryan remains unknown to about a quarter of voters.
Romney put the 42-year-old conservative chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee on the ticket Aug. 11. The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Aug. 16-20.
Romney and Ryan will be crowned as the Republican presidential and vice presidential nominees next week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. The Democrats hold their convention the following week in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The closely locked contest reflects deep partisan divisions across the country.
Among true independents, those who say they do not lean toward either party, the share of undecided voters is declining, with each candidate picking up new support at about the same pace. However, Romney maintains an advantage with the group, with the backing of 41 percent of independents to Obama’s 30 percent. Some 21 percent still say they support neither candidate.
Among all voters, 23 percent are undecided or say they have not yet committed to their candidate.
The frail economy, with the unemployment rate hovering at 8.3 percent more than three years after the deep recession officially ended, remains the No. 1 issue. Nine in 10 call it important for them and half of voters say it is “extremely important,” outpacing all other issues tested by at least 10 percentage points. Two-thirds in the poll described the economy as poor.
Registered voters split about evenly between the two candidates on who they’d trust more to handle the economy, with 48 percent favoring Romney and 44 percent Obama. They are also about evenly divided on who would do more to create jobs, 47 percent for Romney to 43 percent for Obama. Among independent voters, Romney has a big lead over the president on handling the economy — 46 percent to 27 percent.
Romney often appeals to his business background as proof that he could better manage the federal government, and the poll finds that overall, voters are more apt to trust him to handle the federal budget deficit over Obama by a 50 percent to 40 percent margin.
But it’s unlikely that Ryan’s background in authoring Republican budgets will boost them as an issue in the campaign. The share of adults saying the budget deficit was deeply important to them dropped from 75 percent in February to 69 percent in the new poll.
Obama holds a clear edge among voters on handling social issues such as abortion, 52 percent to 35 percent, and a narrow one on handling the federal Medicare program for the elderly, 48 percent to 42 percent. Medicare has grabbed a lot of attention as an issue lately, with Ryan’s proposals to partly change the program drawing criticism from Obama and other Democrats.
Of those who said Medicare is an extremely important issue, 49 percent say they plan to vote for Obama and 44 percent for Romney.
Thirty-five percent overall say things in the nation are heading in the “right direction,” up from 31 percent in June.
The poll involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,006 adults nationwide, including 885 registered voters, Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9, while it’s 4.1 points for registered voters.