One clear challenge for Romney is in generating enthusiasm among his supporters, at least enough to get them to vote in the fall. A slim majority of Obama’s backers are “very enthusiastic” about his candidacy, about double the proportion intensely supportive of Romney’s.
Obama is in roughly the same position on this measure as he was four years ago when the Democratic primaries were wrapping up. Romney, too, is in a similar position to his counterpart at the time, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Obama maintained an enthusiasm advantage straight through Election Day 2008. Eight years ago, George W. Bush held a big enthusiasm advantage over Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
Obama lines up with his predecessor in the White House on another important score: overall job performance. In the new poll, 47 percent approve of Obama and 49 percent disapprove. At this time when Bush was seeking reelection in 2004, there was a similar split on him, 47 percent to 50 percent.
Public views of Obama’s handling of the economy continue to be a drag on him — 55 percent disapprove of his dealing with the issue — although a comparison with Bush provides a bit of relief. More Americans blame Bush than Obama for the country’s economic problems, although the margin has narrowed somewhat since January.
Not surprisingly, blaming Bush or Obama is another area for stark partisan differences.
The partisanship underscores the closeness of the contest between Obama and Romney: Only twice in a dozen national polls since April 2011 has either candidate’s edge exceeded the margin of sampling error, and barely so in those instances.
One of those times came last month, when Obama held a seven-point advantage. That lead was fueled in part by a 19-point advantage among women, the largest across the set of polls. In the new survey, 51 percent of female voters support Obama and 44 percent Romney, almost precisely the average divide since April 2011.
The telephone poll was conducted May 17 to 20 among a random sample of 1,004 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full poll is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; it is four points for the sample of 874 registered voters.
Polling manager Peyton M. Craighill and polling analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.