President Obama remains marginally ahead of Republican challenger Mitt Romney after the selection of Paul Ryan to join the GOP ticket, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released late Tuesday that shows a split verdict on the House member from Wisconsin in his first days in the spotlight.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden lead Romney and Ryan in the first major poll to include running mates, 48 percent to 44 percent. A combined 8 percent of registered voters said they were undecided or preferred another candidate.
A month ago, in a head-to-head matchup, Obama led Romney, 49 percent to 43 percent.
Thirty-three percent of voters said they have a positive opinion of Ryan, who was named as Romney's running mate on Aug. 11. But just as many, 32 percent, say they have a negative view of him. Voters are also divided when asked if the selection of Ryan makes them more or less likely to vote for a Romney ticket in November.
Obama's personal ratings remained steady from last month: Forty-eight percent view him positively, while 43 percent have a negative opinion of him. Romney's net rating also remained steady, though more voters now have an opinion of him. The percent who view him positively ticked up, from 35 percent last month to 38 percent this month. That change is within the margin of error. The percentage who view him negatively also ticked up, from 40 percent in July, to 44 percent in August.
Pollsters asked voters about the relative negativity of the candidates' campaigns. Twenty percent said Obama was running a negative campaign, compared with 11 percent who held that view of Romney. But a whopping 43 percent said both are running negative campaigns, despite the fact that it was not offered as an option by interviewers. Only 21 percent of voters said neither was running a negative campaign. That is a significant change from August 2008, when roughly as many Americans said the candidates were not running negative campaigns as those who said they were.
Asked which candidate would be better on various attributes and issues, Obama scored best on "being easygoing and likable" (by a margin of +35 points), "dealing with issues of concern to women" (+28 points), and "caring about average people" (+22 points). Obama also held a significant, though less overwhelming, edge on "being knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency" (+11 points), "dealing with issues of concern to seniors" (+12 points), and "being a good commander-in-chief" (+7 points).
Romney had 6-percentage-point advantages on "having good ideas for how to improve the economy" and "changing business as usual in Washington." Romney's biggest advantage was on "having executive and managerial skills," 45 percent to 32 percent.
The economy remains a weakness for Obama, but it is not an overwhelming strength for Romney, because voters expressed little confidence in either candidate to turn it around. Fully 44 percent of voters said they are "not at all confident" that Obama "has the right set of goals of policies to improve the economy," but 42 percent said the same about Romney. In fact, more voters said they are "extremely" or "quite" confident in Obama (34 percent) when it comes to the economy than Romney (27 percent).
Half of voters said they think the economy is recovering, while 46 percent said it is not. But a majority, 54 percent, disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy. Overall, 48 percent approve of the job Obama is doing as president, and 49 percent disapprove.
Pollsters asked voters about the proposal to reform Medicare that Ryan has championed in the House, but after a two-sentence explanation, a majority said they had no opinion of the proposal. When arguments made by each candidate were presented -- Obama saying the proposal "would end Medicare as we know it," Romney saying it "would strengthen Medicare and reduce government costs" -- 50 percent said they agreed more with Obama, while 34 percent sided with Romney.
The poll was conducted Aug. 16-20 by a bipartisan team of pollsters, Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff. The poll surveyed 1,000 registered voters -- 300 of whom were contacted by cell phone and said they did not have landlines -- for a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.