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Poll: Prosperity Shortfall Puts Obama at Risk

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Americans are nearly twice as likely to say they’ve gotten worse off as better off under Barack Obama’s presidency, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post, a prosperity shortfall resembling the one that cost the first President Bush his job in 1992. 

But Mitt Romney has yet to seize the opportunity fully, with weaknesses on personal as well as professional qualities that are keeping the 2012 race a close one.

Only 16 percent of Americans surveyed say their financial situation has improved since Obama took office, while 30 percent say they’re worse off.  It’s one reason the public disapproves of the president’s handling of the economy by 55-42 percent.

With the economy by far the top election issue, it’s notable that Obama’s staying competitive in vote preferences despite his poor ratings for economic stewardship.  One reason is that George W. Bush continues to take more of the blame for the economy’s problems; another is that Romney hasn’t made the case he’d do better.

Just two in 10 in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, think they’d be better off had Romney been steering the economy instead of Obama; about as many think Romney would have left them worse off.  While that’s a bit (8 points) fewer than the number who say they’ve gotten worse off under Obama, nonetheless Obama and Romney remain essentially even in trust to handle the economy (46-47 percent) or job creation (47-44 percent).

That said, Romney has inched closer to Obama on the key question of who better understands the economic problems of average Americans, halving a 17-percentage point Obama lead in February to 8 points now.  And while blame for the economy still falls more on Bush than on Obama, that’s narrowed to 49-34 percent -- a still-substantial 15-point margin, but down from 25 points in January.  The more Obama takes the blame, the greater his risk.

Another factor: Obama’s overall job approval rating is now back under 50 percent (47 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove) after hitting the halfway mark last month for just the second time since the killing of Osama bin Laden.

While these results reflect Romney’s opportunities, this poll finds Obama well ahead on other measures -- enthusiasm for his candidacy, views of his personal character and a sense he stands up for his beliefs -- that provide him with room to push back against his vulnerability on the public’s long-running economic discontent.

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