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A sharp advance among women has boosted Mitt Romney to his highest favorability rating of the presidential campaign - albeit still an unusually weak one - while Barack Obama's personal popularity has slipped in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.
Obama still beats Romney in favorable ratings overall, by an 11-point margin, 52 vs. 41 percent. But that's down from 21 points last month, giving Romney the better trajectory. And both get only even divisions among registered voters, marking the closeness of the race between them.
This survey comes after a period in which Romney's chief GOP competitors withdrew from the Republican race and lined up behind his candidacy. Romney clinched his party's nomination in Texas last night.
All Romney's gains have come among women - up by 13 percentage points in personal popularity from last month, while Obama's lost 7 points among women. (Views among men have been more stable.) Obama's rating among women, 51 percent favorable, still beats Romney's 40 percent - but again that margin is far smaller than what it was six weeks ago.
An ABC/Post poll last week found improvement for Romney in vote preferences among married women. This survey finds that his gains in personal favorability, instead, come predominantly among unmarried women, who saw him uncommonly negatively earlier this spring.
This poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that Obama's ratings among all adults are slightly positive, 52-45 percent favorable-unfavorable, vs. 56-40 percent last month. Romney is numerically underwater (albeit not by a significant margin), 41-45 percent - but up from his 35-47 percent score last month. Forty-one percent favorable is a new high for him, by a scant 2 points from January. It's his first foray above the 40 percent line.
Romney's 35 percent favorability in April was the weakest on record for a presumptive presidential nominee in ABC/Post polls in primary seasons since 1984. While he's since gained 6 points overall, he's still less popular than most previous eventual nominees at this stage of a presidential campaign. Only one has been this low in comparable data - but that one, Bill Clinton in 1992, did go on to win.
Obama's popularity, meanwhile is the same as George H.W. Bush's in June 1992, the year Bush lost re-election. On the other hand Obama's rating is 2 points from Ronald Reagan's in early 1984 and George W. Bush's in 2004, both re-election winners.
GROUPS - In addition to women, Romney's gained 9 points among moderates from a month ago (albeit just to 39 percent favorable, vs. Obama's 58 percent in this group) and 9 points among Republicans (to 78 percent favorable).
In addition to losing ground among women, Obama's popularity has dropped by a slight 8 points, to 45 percent, among independents, classically the swing voters in presidential elections. Fifty-two percent of independents see him unfavorably, putting him numerically underwater in this group for the first time since December. Romney is at 40-46 percent favorable-unfavorable among independents, also numerically in negative territory.
Neither candidate manages majority popularity among registered voters. Obama's slipped to a 49-48 percent favorable-unfavorable rating in this group, after achieving majority favorability among registered voters in three of the past four months. Romney's at 44-44 percent, up 8 percentage points in favorable ratings among registered voters since March, albeit not quite at a new high; he hit 45 percent, his best to date, in January.
Differences between registered voters and the general public reflect slightly higher voter registration among Republicans.
Finally, while Obama's clearly had a tougher month than his GOP opponent, he retains bragging rights in one area beyond overall favorability - strength of sentiment. His strong critics and his strong fans are roughly evenly divided, at 31 and 29 percent, respectively. Romney, for his part, is seen more strongly negatively than strongly positively by a 9-point margin, 24 vs. 15 percent. But again, that's eased from a 17-point gap in March.
METHODOLOGY - This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cell phone May 23-27, 2012, among a random national sample of 1,021 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points. The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS/Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pa.