A national CNBC poll finds President Barack Obama holds a commanding lead over Mitt Romney on the key issue of who would be better for the economy over the next four years.
Obama gets that nod even though Americans, by overwhelming margins, believe the economy is worse now than it was four years ago when Obama's term began.
Our latest CNBC All-America Economic Survey of 800 American adults across the nation shows Obama with a nine-point lead over Romney, 43 percent to 34 percent, on who would do a better job on the economy in the future.
At the same time, 55 percent say the economy is worse off than it was four years ago and just 22 percent think it’s better. Seventeen percent say it’s about the same.
The scientific poll of 802 randomly chosen adults, including 201 who only have a cellphone, was conducted by the Hart/McInturff Group from Sept. 17 through Sept. 20. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
In June, CNBC asked Americans who had “good ideas for how to improve the economy,” a variation on the question asked in this poll. Romney held a 39 percent to 33 percent advantage over Obama. Compared with the prior poll, Romney maintained his 80 percent support among Republicans, but lost ground with independents.
Obama gained substantial support among African-Americans, Latinos, and Democrats, and picked up a small percentage among whites.
In nine of 12 categories, Americans said they are worse off than they were four years ago, often by massive margins. For example, 60 percent said the job market is worse than four years ago; only 23 percent said it’s better.
By a 44 percent to 23 percent margin, Americans believe the nation's health-care system is worse — an apparent blow to Obama on his signature issue of health-care reform.
When asked which candidate’s policies would best improve these issues over the next four years, Obama leads in seven of the eight categories, including the overall economy, jobs, and health care. Romney bests Obama on only a single issue — the budget deficit — and by only a three-point margin.
“That’s a pretty profound gap between what people said happened in the past four years and who people believe will improve the economy,’’ said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey for CNBC with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.
Obama also holds a large 12-point lead on whose policies would improve America’s standing in the world, even though a large majority of Americans (60 percent to 17 percent) say the nation’s standing is worse off than it was four years ago.
The poll, however, shows Romney leading or tied in seven of the eight categories among self-described independents.
(Read More: Kudlow Says This Issue Could Trump Economy with Voters.)
Obama appears to have neutralized the typical Republican edge on who would increase America’s taxes. Forty-five percent of Americans believe Obama will hike their tax bill, compared with 42 percent for Romney. Forty percent of Americans believe taxes will be about the same under either candidate. Wealthier Americans are more likely to believe that Obama will hike their taxes, and poorer Americans are more concerned about Romney and their taxes.
Behind all the numbers is a wide split in the country, not just between Democrats and Republicans, but between whites and non-whites. On the issue of who would be better for the economy, Obama has the support of just 33 percent of whites, compared to 93 percent of African-Americans and 64 percent of Latinos.
Romney has failed to connect personally with many Americans. Asked who they would like to hang out with on the weekend, Americans gave Obama a clear edge over Romney of 46 percent to 18 percent, with 30 percent saying neither. By a margin of 45 percent to 17 percent, they would want Obama to coach their favorite sports team in a championship game. Again, 30 percent say neither.
But when asked who they would want to invest their money, Romney gets the job by a margin of 42 percent to 24 percent, with 28 percent saying neither.
Hart Pollster Jay Campbell said the Obama camp will view the poll results with concern because of Americans’ downbeat views on the economy, even in categories that have demonstrably improved.
For example, only 34 percent of Americans said the value of their stock market investments is better off than it was four years ago, with 29 percent saying worse and 28 percent saying it’s about the same. In reality, the benchmark S&P 500 stock index is up 80 percent since Obama took office.
But Campbell said the Romney campaign will be concerned that it is lagging on the economic issue despite widespread discontent.
Just 10 percent say the economy is "good" or "excellent." Ninety-one percent call it only "fair" or "poor," with 53 percent using the "poor" label.
Just 35 percent said they expect the economy to improve, while 23 percent said it will stay about the same, and 25 percent expect it to get worse. A large percentage, 17 percent, said they are unsure about the direction of the economy.
“The point that would make me nervous if I were Romney is, given all that downbeat negative data, I, as a candidate, should be up substantially. I have the business background. But I’m not seeing all that translate into people thinking I can do better and it’s not translating into an advantage in the ballot box,” Campbell said.
Both the assessment of the current state of the economy and the outlook are little changed from our prior survey in June, although they show a slightly brighter outlook than during 2011.
One bright spot for the economy is housing, with 27 percent of Americans believing the value of homes will increase in the next year. That's the highest percentage since 2007 and the third quarter in a row that more Americans are looking for home price increases compared with losses. However, they see only a modest 0.5 percent price increase over the next year.
At the same time, Americans are concerned about inflation, believing that prices will rise 4.4 percent over the next year, up from 4 percent in CNBC’s June survey. However, they believe their wages will rise only 2.3 percent over the next 12 months.
On the stock market, just a third of the public believe it’s a good time to invest, compared with 48 percent who say it’s a bad time. The results are little changed from June.
Technical note: The CNBC All America Economic Survey is a comprehensive quarterly survey conducted for the past five years aimed principally at gauging Americans’ views on economic and financial issues. It has always been a survey of all adults, and not of registered or likely voters. As a result, its results may not be comparable with other political surveys.