The poll, conducted Jan. 12-14, found that 46 percent of voters supported Obama and 45 percent supported Romney, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Party loyalty was strong -- 88 percent of Democrats backed Obama and 86 percent of Republicans backed Romney -- and the all-important independent vote was weighted in Romney's favor, 43 percent to 38 percent.
Romney seems to have survived a slew of attacks on his record at Bain Capital: the majority of voters, 54 percent, said it was good for a candidate to have experience in the financial sector, while just 30 percent said the association with Wall Street bothered them.
Romney also benefits from continued dissatisfaction with Obama's economic policies, as 56 percent of voters said they were pessimistic about the economy and 53 percent said they thought the next generation would be worse off than the current one. However, the numbers are trending in the right direction for Obama: 40 percent of poll respondents said the worst of the economic crisis was over, compared to 29 percent in November.
Meanwhile, Obama topped Romney on several non-economic questions.
A plurality of voters, 47 percent, still disapprove of the job Obama is doing, while 45 percent approve. However, a mark in his favor is that his favorability rating (51 percent) has finally exceeded his unfavorability rating (46 percent). Romney also has higher favorability than unfavorability, but his numbers are lower than Obama's: 45 percent to 38 percent.
Only 26 percent of voters said they were very confident in Obama's ability to make the right decisions for the country, but Romney fared even worse: just 16 percent of voters said they were very confident in his decision-making ability. On the other hand, 43 percent of voters said they were somewhat confident in Romney, while only 28 percent said they were somewhat confident in Obama.
There is ample evidence to suggest that candidates do better when people are voting for them rather than against their opponent. This was demonstrated most recently in 2004, when George W. Bush won re-election over John Kerry in part because so much of Kerry's support came from people who just wanted Bush out of office. That's why it's bad news for Romney when 58 percent of his supporters say they are voting against Obama and not for Romney. By contrast, nearly three-quarters of Obama's supporters -- 74 percent -- said they were voting for Obama and not against Romney.
Just under half of voters -- 49 percent -- said they wanted Obama out of office. However, a slim majority, 52 percent, said they thought he would be re-elected, regardless of their personal opinions.
Romney was the only candidate who came close to Obama in the Fox News pollsters' hypothetical matchups: Obama beat Newt Gingrich by 14 points (51-37 percent) and Rick Santorum by 12 points (50-38 percent).
The poll did not include a matchup with Ron Paul, whom many people believe would be the most viable candidate against Obama because of his strong support among independent voters and disillusioned Democrats. It did, however, include a three-way matchup in which Paul ran as a third-party candidate: something he says he has no plans to do, but has not unequivocally ruled out. In that scenario, the poll found that Paul would take 14 percent of the vote and Obama would defeat Romney easily, 42 percent to 35 percent.