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First general election Gallup poll shows Romney edging Obama

By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — The first Gallup poll of the general election campaign shows Mitt Romney edging out President Barack Obama, a close result that both parties expect will be the case through much of the next seven months.

The former Massachusetts governor, emerging from a difficult and longer-than-expected Republican nomination battle, has the support of 47 percent of registered voters nationwide, while the president has 45 percent support. Two percent of voters said they supported another candidate, while 7 percent were undecided.

That’s a statistical tie, given the survey’s margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Both parties’ bases seem firmly behind their presumed nominees. Ninety percent of Republicans back Romney, with Obama scoring an identical level of support among Democrats.

Among the independent voters that will ultimately decide the race, Romney has a six-point lead, 45 percent to 39 percent, with 12 percent undecided.

Gallup says it began its daily tracking poll on April 11, the day after Rick Santorum suspended his campaign for the GOP nomination, essentially clearing the path for Romney. The random sample of 2,265 registered voters ended April 15.

Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport said that the horserace number this early in the election year has not always been a reliable indicator of the final outcome. In 1992, George H.W. Bush led Bill Clinton by double-digits. Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan by 8 percentage points at a similar point in 1980.

But historically, an incumbent president who polls below 50 percent in the first trial heat has been an ominous indicator. Obama’s approval rating in the latest daily tracking poll is 45 percent.

An Obama campaign spokesman declined to comment on the poll.

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