Daniel Doherty

A new NBC/WSJ poll dropped late Tuesday showing President Obama holding a five percentage point lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney:

Fueled by increased optimism about the economy and nation’s direction, President Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney by 5 points among likely voters and now sees his job-approval rating reaching the 50 percent threshold for the first time since March, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The survey – which was conducted after the two party conventions and the political firestorm over last week’s U.S. embassy attacks, but before Romney’s controversial comments about the 47 percent of the country “who are dependent on government” – shows the percentages believing that the country is headed in the right direction and thinking that the economy will improve at their highest levels since 2009.

In the presidential horse race, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden get the support of 50 percent of likely voters, while Romney and running mate Paul Ryan get 45 percent.

Among a wider sample of registered voters, the president’s lead is 6 points, 50 percent to 44 percent – up from Obama’s 4-point edge last month, 48 percent to 44 percent.

A few key takeaways:

(1): The poll finds that the president’s approval rating on foreign policy (now 49 percent) dipped five percentage points since last August. Why? I suspect it’s because of this, this, and this.

(2) A majority of registered voters -- 55 percent -- say the country is on the wrong track, whereas just 39 percent say it’s on the right track. This bodes well for Mitt Romney.

(3) Since The One took office, more voters today believe the country is worse off (41 percent) than better off (38 percent). (Caveat: only 36 percent believe Mitt Romney is “better prepared” to lead the nation over the next four years. On the other hand, a solid majority say the same thing about President Obama).

(4) President Obama maintains a double digit lead among women, college graduates, and especially African-Americans. However, Governor Romney leads by eight percentage points among white voters, although (according to the pollsters) that margin has narrowed considerably in recent months.

In short, I think Democratic pollster Peter Hart summed up the NBC/WSJ findings best: “After a year that has looked like a two-step back-and-forth, it is clear that Barack Obama has moved a step ahead. But it is only a step.” That last sentence is crucial. Although President Obama seems to be holding a significant lead (his job approval rating, after all, has hit the 50 percent water mark for the first time since March) this race is far from over. Granted, this poll was conducted before Governor Romney’s so-called “gaffe” went viral, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that household incomes are falling, poverty rates are soaring, and 23 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed, or have stopped looking for work. The race is going to come down to the wire. To believe otherwise -- especially at this point in time -- would be a huge mistake.

UPDATE – It’s also worth mentioning that the poll boasted a D+7 sample breakdown (D+5 with likely voters). In other words, since voter turnout in 2012 will likely fall somewhere between 2008’s (D+7) and 2010’s (D+0) partisan split, this particular survey is somewhat skewed towards Democrats.

UPDATE II – Check out all the latest polls at http://townhall.com/polltracker


Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography