On trust to handle the No. 1 issue — the economy — public perceptions of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney diverge in important ways, particularly among independent voters.

Among all registered voters, the president is, by a wide margin, viewed as being more in tune with the economic problems people are having, while the top Republican challenger has a slight advantage on economic stewardship in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Obama and Romney get a mix of reactions on a variety of other issues. Obama earns higher public trust when it comes to protecting the middle class, dealing with international affairs and battling terrorism. Romney’s holds the advantage as the candidate better able to deal with the budget deficit. The two are evenly matched on “creating jobs.”

If the election boils down to primarily the economy, each candidate will have a claim to that mantle. By 52 to 37 percent, more voters say that Obama “better understands the economic problems people in this country are having.”

Romney’s push back is his perceived strength in handling specific economic concerns. By 52 to 39 percent more voters trust him than Obama to handle the budget deficit. And Romney has a more narrow 50 to 44 percent edge on handling the economy among all voters.

Narrowing the scope to independents, the swing voters that can make or break elections, finds more advantages for Romney. A little more than half pick him for handling the deficit, the economy and creating jobs (albeit a more slight advantage over Obama on this count).

Obama’s big advantages on protecting the middle class and economic empathy among all voters shrink a bit among independent voters. Still, about half of independents pick Obama on these measures.

Full Post-ABC poll results

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