The frail economy remains the No. 1 issue more than three years after the deep recession officially ended. Nine in 10 call it important for them and half of voters say it is "extremely important," outpacing all other issues tested by at least 10 percentage points.
Registered voters split about evenly between the two candidates on whom they trust more to handle the economy, with 48 percent favoring Romney and 44 percent Obama. They are also about evenly divided on who would do more to create jobs, 47 percent for Romney to 43 percent for Obama. Among independent voters, Romney has a big lead over the president on handling the economy — 46 percent to 27 percent.
The election is all about the economy for Mattise Fraser, a 52-year-old Democrat from Charlotte, where Democrats gather in early September. "We're in a crisis situation now," said Fraser, who said she plans to vote for Obama. She says she's a homemaker — but not by choice. "The economy is crazy. There's no jobs."
Obama's approval rating held steady in the poll at about an even split, with 49 percent saying they approve of the way he's handling his job and another 49 percent saying they disapprove.
The president continues to be seen as more empathetic, and also held a commanding lead among voters as the candidate who better "understands the problems of people like you," 51 percent to 36 percent for Romney.
"For Romney to even say that he has four cars when I don't have one, and I'm struggling, and every time I turn around, something else is costing me more, I just don't feel he has any concept whatsoever," said Suzanne Ayer, a 69-year-old independent from West Deptford, N.J.
Some 50 percent see Obama as a stronger leader than Romney; 41 percent say Romney is stronger. And 35 percent overall say things in the nation are heading in the "right direction," up from 31 percent in June.
The poll involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,006 adults nationwide, including 885 registered voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9, while it's 4.1 points for registered voters.
AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed this report.
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