Results of a recent poll conducted by US firm Langer Research Associates for ABC News indicate that incumbent US President Barack Obama is locked in a 47-47 percent tie with Republican Presidential aspirant Mitt Romney, four months ahead of US presidential elections.
Whereas economic discontent and significant dissatisfaction with Barack Obama's performance seem to be keeping Mitt Romney competitive in the presidential race, these factors have proven insufficient to give the Republican candidate enough of a margin to overcome Obama's greater personal appeal.
The consequence: a dead heat in voter preferences at the midsummer stage, with the prospect of an epic battle ahead.
While most Americans continue to disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy, that's not his only problem.
More than half fault him on health care and immigration as well.
Sixty-three percent say the country is headed in the wrong direction, and among groups, he's losing swing-voters by a record 14 percentage points.
Yet Romney faces significant challenges of his own; his supporters are more apt to be against Obama than explicitly for Romney - a "negative" vote that can be less compelling than an affirmative one.
His supporters are also less enthusiastic than Obama's.
And although Obama is generally considered as vulnerable on the economy, Romney’s position is even weaker as he is perceived to have failed to offer a clear economic plan.
Obama also continues to maintain a clear lead on a range of personal attributes - empathy, standing up for his beliefs and, especially, basic likeability.
Obama also continues to prevail in expectations: Despite his troubles, this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that Americans by 58-34 percent expect him ultimately to defeat Romney and win a second term, a sharp difference from last October, when, with economic discontent at a higher pitch, 55 percent thought Obama would lose.
Today, even among Romney's supporters, a quarter think Obama will win.
With a 47-47 percent Obama-Romney contest among registered voters, the overall results point to a sharply defined race: On one hand Obama, the more personally popular candidate, with a larger and more energized partisan base, yet weak performance scores; and on the other Romney, his opportunities to capitalize on Obama's vulnerabilities complicated by his difficulties in capturing the public's imagination.
Helpful to Obama, given the economy, is the fact that in deciding their vote, 51 to 33 percent of American citizens are focused more on what he seeks to do in his second term as president than on what he's done in his first.
Among registered voters who are more concerned about what Obama has done so far, Romney leads by 18 points, 55-37 percent.
Four months to the presidential election though, indications are that there's a lot of room for vote swinging; one in five of Romney's current supporters, and one in six of Obama's, say there is a chance they could change their mind and support the other candidate.
That suggests that more than changing minds, the contest likely is to be about motivating turnout - and here Obama has an edge.
Among registered voters, half of his supporters (51 percent) are "very" enthusiastic, vs.
38 percent of Romney's.
It can matter: Strong enthusiasm is a measure on which Obama crushed John McCain in 2008, and on which George W.
Bush beat John Kerry in 2004.
Still, while lagging, Romney's strong enthusiasm has improved by a dozen points since spring.
TAXES, JOBS and BAIN - One notable result is the fact that Obama and Romney are rated evenly in trust to handle taxes, usually a strong issue for Republican candidates (although Obama's seen better, leading on taxes in February, as well as vs.
McCain in 2008.) It's a competitiveness Obama may have had in mind in pressing Monday to extend Bush-era tax cuts for those with incomes less than $250,000.
HEALTH CARE – Another key issue which will define the eventual American vote.
While Obama shows no advantage on the issue, his law itself has gotten something of a boost – Americans are now divided evenly on it, 47-47 percent, ‘support-oppose’.
It was 39-53 percent in April, before the Supreme Court upheld the law's individual mandate.
With support for the law divided and Obama's approval rating on handling health care weak, there's opportunity for Romney; he gets 9 points more support than opposition, 38-29 percent, from his call to repeal the law (with the rest saying it's not a major factor).
But there's little support for complete repeal in and of itself - just 18 percent overall.
PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES - Beyond the issue wars, as noted, Obama retains advantages over Romney in personal qualities, including a vast 36-point advantage in being seen as more friendly and likeable, and a more important albeit narrower 10-point lead as better understanding the economic problems Americans are experiencing.
Obama also holds a slight 9-point edge as being more apt to stand up for what he believes; the two are closer on who's the stronger leader.
All these have held essentially steady since spring.
GROUPS - Vote preferences among groups, as noted, include Romney's best showing to date among registered voters who identify themselves as independents, 53-39 percent.
Obama comes back to parity overall because Democrats account for a larger share of the pie than Republicans, 36 percent of registered voters vs.
Among other groups, preferences among married women who are registered to vote continue to be unsettled; they now divide very closely, 44-47 percent, Obama-Romney, after a better result for Obama in April and for Romney in May.
Obama's support meanwhile is a bit softer than usual among unmarried women, but his best to date among unmarried men.
The gender gap more generally is back - Obama up by 8 points among women, Romney by 7 among men.
Romney, for his part, ties his best result so far among senior citizens, 57-37 percent, and runs evenly with Obama among college graduates, a group in which Obama did better earlier this year.
Combined with the closeness of the contest, the sharp differences among groups make the 2012 election look like one in which broad themes are likely to matter less than either a breakout event or, more likely, each campaign's eventual proficiency at persuading its supporters to vote.
METHODOLOGY - This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone July 5-8, 2012, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents.
Results have a margin of sampling error of 4 points for the full sample and registered voters.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.
Source: Yahoo News