President Obama and Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, split 49 percent to 47 percent among registered voters in a hypothetical 2012 matchup in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

While Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) are weaker against the incumbent president, all Republican candidates amass heavy margins among tea party supporters, who are paying considerable attention to the election at this early stage.

Obama vs. Romney: Swing-voting independents are just as divided as all voters in the new poll, going 48 percent to Obama and 47 percent to Romney. Obama has an edge in battleground states — decided by less than 10 points in 2008 — with 51 percent support to Romney’s 46 percent.

Romney leads by 12 points among white voters, the same edge John McCain held among whites in his 2008 loss to Obama, according to exit polls.

While nine in 10 voters give the economy negative marks, their view on how rotten the situation has become reveals their 2012 preference. Romney holds a 63 percent to 32 percent edge among voters who give the economy the lowest rating of “poor.” Those who say the economy is just “not so good” prefer Obama by a similarly heavy margin, 63 percent to 34 percent.

Ratings of Washington’s divided government also divide voters. Obama wins three-quarters of voters who view government in a positive light, but those who are “dissatisfied” split 50 percent to 46 percent, and “angry” voters heavily favor Romney, 66 percent to 30 percent.

Other Republican candidates: Obama holds a 12-point lead against Bachmann among political independents, and he runs about even with Bachmann, Perry and Paul among whites, a group Democrats have lost in the last three presidential contests.

Although Bachmann has strong ties to the tea party constituency, Romney actually has similar support from this group in a potential general-election battle with Obama — 88 percent of strong tea party supporters backing Romney over Obama, and 83 percent supporting Bachmann over the incumbent.

White evangelicals prefer Romney over Obama by 73 percent to 20 percent — as strong a showing as any Republicans enjoyed in the poll.

No army waiting for Perry: As the Texas governor mulls whether to leap into the 2012 GOP primary race, the new poll finds that he runs about as well as Bachmann and Paul but fares worse than Romney in a general-election meeting with Obama. Perry’s charisma and position as governor could bolster a national race debut, but he lacks a strong natural constituency and he performs worse than Romney does among key groups.

Like Romney and Bachmann, he draws heavy support from those who say the economy is “poor” and are “angry” about government. But Perry runs 11 points worse than does Romney among white women, 15 points  worse in the Northeast and earns about the same support as do other GOP candidates among white voters in the South, his home region.

Read the full poll results.

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