WASHINGTON - Finally, a pollster asked voters the one question that matters in this presidential election: Does Barack Obama know how to fix the economy?
When the Pew Research Center asked that question in the days following Mitt Romney's strong performance in last week's presidential debate, a majority of the voters answered, no.
The central failure of Obama's presidency centers on his demonstrated inability to restore the economy to full health and vigor after trillions of dollars in job stimulus spending that created few jobs but added $5 trillion to the federal debt.
Pew put the question to likely voters this way: Do you agree or disagree with the criticism that "Obama doesn't know how to turn the economy around?"
A 54 percent majority agreed that he didn't know how to rebuild our economy while 44 percent diehard supporters disagreed.
While Romney voters were nearly unanimous with this dim view of Obama's questionable capabilities, 11 percent of Obama voters "share this view," Pew reported Monday.
Notably, a sizable share of swing voters, by a margin of 54 percent to 39 percent, agreed Obama does not know how to strengthen the economy and get it back on track.
The Pew poll, and other post-debate surveys, found that Romney's performance in the debate erased Obama's lead and dramatically changed the way voters perceived his Republican challenger.
A whopping 66 percent of voters said Romney turned in a far better performance than Obama in Wednesday's debate, compared to 20 percent who said that about Obama.
Romney "is now better regarded on most personal dimensions and on most issues than he was in September," Pew said. He "is seen as the candidate who has new ideas and is viewed as better able than Obama to improve the jobs situation and reduce the budget deficit."
If there was any question of Obama's incompetence on economic policy, it was reconfirmed in Friday's weak jobs report. The economy added 114,000 jobs in September, fewer than the 142,000 jobs in August, and fewer still than the jobs created in July.
While the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent, it did not indicate the economy was suddenly getting stronger or growing at a faster rate. A chief reason behind the rate's decline was the number of self-employed jumped dramatically, says business economist Peter Morici at the University of Maryland.
"With the economy growing so slowly, many of these [newly self- employed Americans] are likely workers laid off during the economic collapse who have established home-based businesses," Morici writes in his latest analysis.