President Obama's strenuous efforts to target select voter groups may be backfiring as the broader electorate grows increasingly worried over the economy. Meanwhile, Republicans are closing ranks around Mitt Romney.
Obama's support was flat while Romney gained ground in the latest IBD/TIPP poll. The incumbent leads just 46%-43% among registered voters, inside the margin of error. Obama led by eight points a month ago: 46%-38%.
Ominously for Obama, Romney now leads 46%-37% among independents. Obama had narrowly led that group, 40%-37%, the previous month.
Throughout the last month, Obama has focused on narrow policy appeals, vowing to keep student loan rates low and pushing for a special "Buffett Rule" tax on millionaires, even as Democrats backed away from claims that it would fix the deficit.
But taking his focus away from the bigger picture may have been a mistake.
"The election is definitely a referendum of Obama policies. With nearly 30 million Americans looking for a full-time job, we expect Americans to sharply focus on unemployment and the job situation," said Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which conducted the poll.
Despite Democrats' "war on women" rhetoric, Romney narrowed his gender gap. Obama still leads 49%-40%, but the nine-point margin is down from 13 points, 48%-35%, in April.
Obama still leads overwhelmingly among single women, 59%-29%, and that 30-point margin was little changed from last month's 56%-25%. But Romney leads 49%-42% among married women, who are more likely to turn out to vote. His margin there was just 44%-41% in April.
Romney leads among men overall, 46%-43% vs. the 44%-42% edge Obama had in April. Republicans have traditionally led Democrats by about 10 points among male voters, offsetting the gap with female voters.
A Quinnipiac poll shows Romney narrowly leading in the battleground state of Florida, 44%-43%, and just behind Obama in Ohio, 42%-44%.
The former Massachusetts governor's improving fortunes come after a month in which rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich bowed out, ceding the nomination. Since then Romney has been broadening his party support, with 87% of Republicans backing him vs. 77% a month earlier.
"Romney consolidated the GOP base very quickly," said Karlyn Bowman, senior policy analyst for the conservative American Enterprise Institute. She added: "The country is evenly divided politically, and the race is probably going to be very close going forward."
Romney still faces an intensity problem. While 67% of Obama's fans say they supported him strongly, just 35% of Romney's fans said the same, indicating he still has lukewarm support among most Republicans.
But the economy remains a negative for Obama. While the official jobless rate fell to 8.1% in April, that was due to more people no longer looking for work. The labor force participation rate hit a fresh 30-year low of 63.6%.
Only 35% give Obama high marks for managing the economy, while 43% give him poor grades. He also gets failing marks on the federal budget, creating jobs and handling gas prices.
Americans, by 59%-39%, say they aren't satisfied with current federal economic policies, worse than last month's 55%-41%.