WASHINGTON — Months into a bruising primary campaign, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney is still neck and neck with President Barack Obama in a hypothetical general election matchup, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
Obama leads Romney 46-44 percent, suggesting a country that remains closely divided between the major parties, unwilling to rally to the Democratic incumbent and refusing to cast aside the front-runner for the Republican nomination after a dark hour of attacks and sniping inside his party.
Rick Santorum, the other major GOP candidate, remains close to Obama as well. The poll finds the president leading him 48-43 percent.
A key reason they're both close: Each edges the president among independent voters by 1 point. Also, the president, while enjoying an uptick of support on his handling of the economy and foreign affairs, nevertheless has the overall job approval of fewer than half of American voters at 48 percent, with 47 percent disapproving and 5 percent unsure. He fares a tad better when voters were asked if they have favorable or unfavorable impressions of him: Fifty percent are favorable, 46 percent unfavorable and 3 percent unsure.
Among other findings: Romney leads the Republican field for the nomination, he leads Santorum in a two-man race if Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul drop out, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would bring more to a Romney ticket than Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Overall, voters give the president improving marks this spring on some key issues. On the economy, 46 percent approve of his performance and 51 percent disapprove, his best showing since June 2010. On foreign policy, 50 percent approve — the highest since June 2009 — while 45 percent disapprove.