Perry close to Romney...or is he? - Fresh off an action-packed weekend of GOP straw polling, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) formal announcement seeking the nomination and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty’s exit from the race, the GOP field may be crystallizing. In the most recent Republican primary polling, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney continues to lead the primary field in Fox News and CNN polls, but they differ in how far back Perry stands. The Fox poll - conducted among registered voters who plan to vote in their state’s primary or caucus - shows Romney with a sturdy 21 to 13 percent lead over Perry. But CNN shows a slimmer 17 to 15 percent edge, within the poll’s margin of error (the CNN numbers are among all Republican adults). Texas congressman Ron Paul earns a solid 12 percent support in CNN’s poll, but just 6 percent according to Fox.

What explains the difference in poll numbers? It’s possible that Republican voters are still kicking the tires on the primary field, and that many have yet to take a serious look. Though Romney continues to lead almost all national polls, 71 percent of his backers in a July Post-ABC poll said they only back him “somewhat,” while fewer than half as many back him “strongly” (29 percent). Roughly two thirds of all GOP registered voters express only measured support for their current choice, underscoring the fact that while the news media are honed in on the election right now (including us!), only 20 percent of all registered voters say they’re following the race “very closely.”

Obama approval sub-40; steep drop among independents - President Obama’s approval ratings sunk to 39 percent for the first time in his presidency according to Gallup daily tracking poll completed Saturday. The numbers are not a sharp drop - Obama has hit 40 percent approval three times in the past month - but much of the falloff appears to be among political independents. Fully 46 percent of independents approved of Obama in Gallup polls from late June to early July, but that’s dropped to 34 percent in the last wave of polls.

Economic gloom mounts - More adults say America is off on the wrong track the worst economic troubles are still yet to come, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll released last week. Overall, 47 percent say the worst economic problems lie in the future while almost as many say the economy has “stabilized but not yet begun to improve.” Those numbers jibe closely with a Washington Post poll conducted last week in which about half the public labeled  the country’s financial situation “a crisis,” nearly equalling public sentiment when the financial meltdown started in 2008.

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