President Barack Obama is leading all of the Republican presidential candidates in head-to-head match-ups, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
A national survey taken March 7-11 showed Obama leading Romney by 12 percentage points (54-42) and even further ahead of Santorum with 57 percent of support to Santorum's 29 percent. Those numbers are likely to shift as Republicans rally around a single candidate in the coming months, but as a snapshot, the data suggest a brighter scenario for Obama than in previous polls.
Here are more nuggets from the wide-ranging study:
Obama's approval rating rises to 50 percent
For the first time since shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed, half of all Americans (50 percent) say they approve of Barack Obama's job performance, while just 41 percent disapprove.
Romney's national lead widening among Republican primary voters
Mitt Romney has regained the lead in the support for his party's presidential nomination, as conservative backing for Rick Santorum has declined. Romney currently holds a 33-24 lead over Santorum among registered Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters, with 20 percent backing Newt Gingrich and 14 percent favoring Ron Paul. The poll was conducted before Santorum's twin victories in Alabama and Mississippi Tuesday night.
Americans think Obama will win a second term
By a 59-32 margin, most Americans think Barack Obama will win the election if Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee. That margin is far wider if Rick Santorum is the GOP nominee: 68 percent think Obama would win, while just 24 percent predict a Santorum presidency.
A majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of the Republican candidates after a long primary
Confirming fears among Republicans that the protracted primary is weakening all the candidates, the survey found that the contentious Republican primary has taken a toll on the image of the leading GOP candidates. In the current survey, just 29 percent of Americans say they have a favorable view of Romney, while 51 percent say they have an unfavorable impression.
Voters don't know that Santorum is Catholic
Only about three-in-ten voters (29 percent) can identify Rick Santorum as a Catholic. This includes 32 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters and 27 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaners. Another 15 percent identify Santorum as either Protestant (10 percent) or volunteer that he is Christian (5 percent). About half (53 percent) of voters say they don't know his religion.
In a follow-up question, about a third of those who identify Santorum as a Christian—16 percent of voters overall—say they believe he is an evangelical or born-again Christian.
Republicans struggling with women and minorities
Barack Obama's lead over Romney is attributable in large part to his wide advantage among women, younger voters, and nonwhites. Women favor Obama over Romney by 20 points—virtually unchanged from a month ago.
Nation split over federal health care overhaul
[T]wo years after the passage of comprehensive health care legislation, the public is evenly divided over the law. Overall, 47 percent approve of the law, while 45 percent disapprove.
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- President Barack Obama