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Obama, Romney in dead heat, CBS News/New York Times poll finds

Mitt Romney, President Obama
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CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

Updated 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time

Mitt Romney has closed the gap with President Obama among registered voters, a CBS News/New York Times poll released Wednesday found, putting the former Massachusetts governor in a dead heat with the president for the White House.

Mr. Obama and Romney each received support from 46 percent of registered voters when asked who they would vote for if the election were held today. In March, a CBS News/New York Times survey found that Mr. Obama held a slight advantage over Romney of 47 percent to 44 percent.

The poll was conducted between last Friday and Tuesday, days after former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum suspended his campaign, effectively making Romney the presumptive nominee to take on the president in the fall. Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich remain in the race but face Romney's all-but-insurmountable lead in delegates and fundraising ahead of the Republican convention this summer in Tampa, Fla.

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Following the end of Santorum's bid for the presidency, Republican primary voters have rallied behind Romney, with 54 percent saying they want him to lead Republicans into the fall campaign season. That's a significant difference from March, when only 30 percent wanted him to be the nominee.
(At left, CBS News political director John Dickerson discusses the poll on "CBS This Morning.")

Gingrich was preferred among 20 percent of Republican primary voters; Paul received support from 12 percent. Nine percent picked "someone else." When asked if Santorum should have suspended his campaign, 63 percent of those polled said yes; 30 percent said no.

Still, many Republicans expressed lukewarm feelings toward Romney, with 40 percent of primary voters having reservations about him compared with 33 percent saying they supported him "enthusiastically." In January, the last time a CBS News/New York Times survey asked primary voters about Romney, 28 percent said they supported him enthusiastically and 38 percent had reservations.

Among Republicans with reservations of Romney are primary voters who identified themselves as white evangelicals, conservatives and supporters of the tea party movement. Half of white evangelicals told pollsters that they had reservations about Romney over the 27 percent who supported him enthusiastically. Romney received enthusiastic support from more than a third (36 percent) of conservatives and tea party backers; however, 41 percent have reservations about him.

Although evangelicals were some of Santorum's strongest supporters, 52 percent of those polled agreed that he did the right thing to bow out of the race.

UPDATE, 6:30 P.M. Eastern Time: More findings have now been released from the poll. Among them:

Obama leads among women, Romney among men: The president leads 49 percent to 43 percent among women, while Romney leads 49 percent to 43 percent among men. But there is an interesting split among women: Among married women - who represented 29 percent of registered voters in this poll - Romney has the edge, 49 percent to 42 percent. The president, meanwhile, dominates among single women, 62 percent to 34 percent.

More breakdown: The president leads by eight points among those under 45, while Romney leads by six among those older than 45. Mr. Obama leads by ten among those who make less than $50,000 per year, while Romney leads by six among those who make more than that amount. Mr. Obama leads by four among college graduates, while Romney leads by two (within the margin of error) among those with no degree. Nine in ten Democrats back the president, while nine in ten Republicans back Romney; independents are evenly split.

Lack of confidence in Obama: Nearly half of registered voters say they do not have confidence in the president to make decisions on the economy, which is overwhelmingly the most important issue for voters. Fifty-one percent are very or somewhat confident; 48 percent are not very or not at all confident. Romney has the confidence of 55 percent of registered voters for his economic decisions.

There is more confidence in Mr. Obama's abilities as commander-in-chief: 59 percent are confident that he can be an effective commander-in-chief, compared to 40 percent who do not. Fifty-six percent are confident in Romney as commander-in-chief, while 37 percent are not.

Underwater favorability: Neither candidate has a net positive favorable rating. Mr. Obama is viewed favorably by 42 percent of registered voters, while 45 percent view him unfavorably; 13 percent are undecided or haven't' heard enough. Romney is seen favorably by 29 percent and unfavorably by 34 percent; 37 percent did not weigh in either way.

Twenty-seven percent say Mr. Obama, who promised "change you can believe in," has made positive changes to the way things are done in Washington. Twenty percent say he has changed things for the worse, while 47 percent see no change. Thirty-two percent say a President Romney would make change for the better, seven percent say he would make change for the worse, and 47 percent say he wouldn't make a difference.

One warning sign for Romney: Just 34 percent say the wealthy former businessman is someone they can relate to, while 60 percent say they cannot relate to him. Mr. Obama's numbers are better: 47 percent say they can relate to him, while 50 percent say they cannot. 

Romney is also seen as less than sincere: Sixty-two percent say he says what people want to hear, while just 27 percent say he says what he believes. By contrast, 51 percent say Mr. Obama says what people want to hear, while 46 percent say he says what he believes.

Mr. Obama's job approval rating has recovered from a dip last month, when it was 41 percent, and now stands at 48 percent. Forty-two percent disapprove. He is viewed particularly negatively when it comes to his handling of the housing market, where he has just 36 percent approval, and on gas prices, where he stands at just 24 percent.

Women's health: Women voters have more faith in the president than in Romney to make the right decisions on women's health issues. Sixty percent express confidence in Mr. Obama, compared to just 43 percent for Romney. Most women say the candidates' stance on women's health issues will be one of many important factors in their vote; 44 percent say they could not vote for a candidate with whom they disagree on women's health issues.

The 2010 health care law: The sweeping health care law now being considered by the Supreme Court continues to be viewed skeptically. Forty-seven percent disapprove of the law, while just 39 percent approve. The numbers have held relatively steady since 2010.

Thirty-nine percent say the law went too far in its attempts to reform the health care system, while 24 percent say it didn't go far enough. Another 24 percent say the law was about right. Republicans were more likely to say it went to far, while Democrats were more likely to say it didn't go far enough or was about right.

Just 23 percent say the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to rule on the law in June, should uphold it completely. Twenty-nine percent want the individual mandate to be overturned but the rest of the law kept in place; 37 percent want the entire law overturned.

More from the polls:

Five takeaways from the new CBS/NYT poll
Poll: Economic outlook dim, but improving
Poll reveals gap between married and single women
Read the complete polls (PDF)

This poll was conducted by telephone from April 13-17, 2012, among 957 adults nationwide. 852 interviews were conducted with registered voters, including 268 with voters who said they plan to vote or already have voted in a Republican primary. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The margin of error for the sample of registered voters could be plus or minus three points and six points for the sample of Republican primary voters. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Poll.
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