Romney Leads Republican Rivals While Trailing Obama in Pew Poll

As Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum battle for the Republican presidential nomination, President Barack Obama leads both candidates, according to a poll released today.

The survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press also found Obama’s approval rating reaching 50 percent for the first time in 10 months, shortly after U.S. troops killed the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

The March 7-11 poll gave Obama a 54 percent to 42 percent lead over Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, and a 57 percent to 39 percent edge over Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. The survey of 1,503 adults had a margin of error of 3 percentage points overall and 5 percentage points for subsets of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters.

Last month, Obama led Romney, 52 percent to 44 percent, and Santorum, 53 percent to 43 percent. Almost 60 percent of registered voters, including 30 percent of Republicans and those leaning toward the party, said they expected Obama to beat Romney; more than two-thirds, including 43 percent of Republicans and leaners, predicted an Obama win over Santorum.

The poll, taken before Santorum’s victories in Alabama and Mississippi yesterday, showed Romney ahead in the race for his party’s presidential nomination even as two-thirds of Republicans and leaners said they preferred someone else. Romney garnered 33 percent, up from 28 percent in February, while Santorum dropped to 24 percent in March from 30 percent last month.

Gingrich and Paul

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich polled 20 percent, an increase from 17 percent in February, and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas placed fourth at 14 percent, up from 12 percent a month earlier.

Obama’s job approval rating climbed to 50 percent for the first time since May 2010, with 41 percent disapproving of his performance. In January, 48 percent disapproved of his job performance while 41 percent approved.

His rating on economic issues also rose, with 43 percent approving of the way he was handing the economy, up from 35 percent in November. Still, 53 percent disapproved, though that was better than his 58 percent disapproval rating in November.

The poll also found 44 percent of respondents saying that the economy would be better a year from now, the same as in February and up from 28 percent in December.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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