Poll: Romney, Santorum narrow gap on Obama

chart_Who-Would-You-Vote2_120312

(CBS News) The gap between President Obama and the two leading contenders for the GOP presidential nomination has narrowed, according to a new CBS News/New York Times survey, though Mr. Obama continues to hold a small advantage.

In a potential general election match-up, Mr. Obama leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 47 percent to 44 percent among registered voters. His three-point advantage is within the poll’s three point margin of error. In a survey released on February 14, Mr. Obama held a six-point edge over Romney, though the two men were tied in January.

Mr. Obama’s lead over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is 48 percent to 44 percent. The president’s advantage over Santorum has shrunk four percentage points since the February 14 poll, when Mr. Obama led 49 percent to 41 percent.

The narrowing gap seems at least partly attributable to a drop in support for Mr. Obama. The new survey showed that Mr. Obama’s approval rating has fallen to 41 percent - his lowest approval rating in CBS News polling and a nine-point drop from last month.

Among independents, Mr. Obama’s narrow lead over Romney and Santorum is similar to where it stands among primary voters overall. The poll does show a gender gap: While Mr. Obama holds double digit leads over both leading GOP candidates among female registered voters, Romney and Santorum hold six-point and five-point leads, respectively, over Mr. Obama among men.

The president continues to hold double-digit leads in a potential general election matchup over the two other men in the GOP field. His lead over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is 52 percent to 38 percent, and his lead over Texas Rep. Ron Paul is 49 percent to 39 percent.

Despite the finding that Romney and Santorum match up essentially equally against Mr. Obama, Romney is overwhelmingly seen as the candidate with the best chance to win in November. Fifty-seven percent of Republican primary voters see Romney as the strongest potential nominee; just 17 percent say Santorum is the strongest general election candidate.

Santorum is perceived as more in line with primary voters’ own beliefs, however. While about half of Republican primary voters say Romney’s views on most issues are about right, two thirds say Santorum’s views on most issues are in line with their own. More than one third say Romney is insufficiently conservative, compared to just 11 percent who say that about Santorum.

Asked what is more important in a candidate, 34 percent of Republican primary voters said “strong moral character.” Twenty-four percent said their top concern was that a candidate have the right experience, 19 percent said it was that he can beat Mr. Obama and 18 percent said it is that he is a true conservative.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,781 other followers