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Leadership Ratings Help Obama; 50 Percent Approval, Not So Much 

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Alex Wong/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President Obama has maintained a sizable advantage over Mitt Romney in trust to handle a major crisis and regained his lead in being seen as the stronger leader, wielding the benefits of incumbency to stay competitive -- economic discontent aside -- in the razor-close 2012 election.

Obama also has managed essentially an even split with Romney in views of which candidate has better ideas on the size and role of government -- another case, as with the economy, on which Romney has been unable to capitalize fully on a vulnerability of the president’s.

See a PDF with full results and charts here.

Romney’s held his ground nonetheless, notably with record levels of support within the Republican Party and broad backing in some of its key constituencies, and in the final weekend of the race, the contest remains deadlocked, with 49 percent support for Obama among likely voters and 48 percent for Romney in the latest ABC News/Washington Post daily tracking poll.

There’s no clear evidence that Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy has directly helped him; while he holds a 10-point lead over Romney in trust to handle a major crisis -- 52-42 percent -- that’s the same as it was earlier this fall, long before the storm struck.

Still, Obama has improved in a related gauge: This poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that he now leads Romney by 6 percentage points among likely voters -- 50-44 percent -- in being seen as the stronger leader.  That re-establishes an edge for Obama that Romney had reeled in to a nonsignificant 2 points after the first presidential debate.

A third result further underscores the difficulties Romney’s experienced in achieving a clear breakthrough.  Earlier ABC/Post polling found a broad sense that Obama favors a larger government, while Romney is seen as favoring a smaller one; the latter is a view most likely voters profess to share.  Yet asked in this poll who has better ideas about the right size and role of government, it’s a 48-45 percent split, Romney-Obama -- not a significant difference, despite Romney’s built-in opportunity.

The economy is another such issue, indeed the key one.  Romney opened a 9-point lead in trust to handle the economy the week before last, but his momentum didn’t hold; it’s a nonsignificant 3 points, 49-46 percent, now.  And in economic empathy -- better understanding the economic problems of average Americans -- Obama holds a 6-point lead, again having recovered from a tighter division 10 days ago.

Certainly Obama faces difficulties of his own.  His overall job approval rating is steady at 50 percent -- passable enough to run competitively, but a good indication of why the contest is so close.  

There’s a strong correlation to vote preferences: Among likely voters who approve of Obama’s job performance, 93 percent back him for re-election; among disapprovers, 93 percent favor Romney.

That brings it down to turnout (in an election in which 27 percent of likely voters say in fact they’ve already voted), and there Obama has a potential advantage.  He holds a 7-point lead over Romney in the share of his supporters who say they’re very enthusiastic about their choice -- 69 percent of Obama’s backers, 62 percent of Romney’s.  That’s Obama’s biggest lead in strong support, numerically, since just after the conventions.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio