The new Post-ABC News poll is a mixed bag for President Obama. He’s besting likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney in a head-to-head match-up (51 percent to 44 percent). His job approval rating is good (50 percent). But on THE issue voters care about — the economy and the deficit — Obama is not doing so well. Combine this with a poll of “swing Independents” released yesterday, and you have the makings of a very different and more difficult general election campaign for Obama.

With a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, Obama and Romney are virtually tied on who would best handle job creation (46 percent to 43 percent) and the economy (43 percent to 47 percent). Yet, when it comes to who those surveyed think would better handle the federal budget deficit, Romney trounces Obama, 51 percent to 38 percent.

This is significant because 57 percent of those polled in a survey of Independent voters in battleground states by the centrist think tank Third Way said tackling the deficit is their primary concern. Just 38 percent said income inequality was a primary concern. This is a stat the White House should take note of today as it pom-poms its “Buffet Rule” to ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes. In fact, the administration ought to focus on these key findings from Third Way on the entire income inequality message and how it is perceived by swing Independents.

80% of Swing Independents say they’d prefer a candidate to focus on increasing opportunity, rather than reducing income inequality.

These voters pick an opportunity message over a fairness message by 51 to 43.

The supermajority of Swing Independents think the system is already basically fair, and by 3 to 1 they call themselves “haves,” not “have nots.”

This provides a HUGE opening for Romney, whose message has been that Obama has failed. That he isn’t up to the task of righting the economy and ensuring prosperity. Unfortunately, for him, both The Post and Third Way polls show that folks just don’t like the guy compared to the president.

Those polled by The Post said Obama “seems more friendly and likeable” (64 percent to 26 percent), “more inspiring” (55 percent to 29 percent) and “better understands people’s economic problems” (49 percent to 37 percent). The president also received high favorability marks in the Third Way survey of swing Independents. While they are “up for grabs” but tilting towards Obama over Romney (35 percent to 29 percent with a whopping 36 percent undecided), the president is viewed favorably by 57 percent. Romney clocks in with just about as many viewing him favorably (41 percent) as those who don’t (40 percent).

Likeability is important. As I argued last summer, that the American people still like Obama means they are open to hearing him make his case for a second term. People think Romney is the guy with the ideas to turn things around. But they don’t seem to be comfortable allowing a guy into their lives for four years who doesn’t seem to be comfortable with himself and would say or do anything to make you believe otherwise. Until Romney figures out how to turn that image around, he’s doomed.