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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has a wide lead over potential Republican rivals for the presidential election in 2012, but faces serious doubts about his handling of the U.S. economy, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found on Wednesday.
The survey offered a boost for the president after the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Now, 45 percent of Americans believe he will win re-election, a 1O-point rise from a poll taken before November's congressional elections.
The survey is an indication of how difficult it will be for Republicans to dislodge an incumbent president in the November 2012 election.
Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said the Republican results are likely to improve as the field takes shape and Americans begin hearing more about Obama's challengers.
"Most people don't know much about any of these people, and plus there is always an advantage for the incumbent," she said.
The field of possible Republicans challengers to Obama has not generated much enthusiasm so far, with several waiting to announce their candidacy.
Obama, who made history in 2008 by becoming the first African-American to be elected president, leads possible Republican candidates by double digits.
He polls above 50 percent when compared to his closest rivals, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, according to the poll.
Obama leads Huckabee by 51 percent to 39 percent, and Romney by 51 percent to 38 percent.
The president's approval rating is at 49 percent, a 3-point increase over last month, amounting to only a modest bounce after the May 2 bin Laden operation. Other surveys have given him a slightly larger post-bin Laden boost.
Obama got no lift on the economic front, the issue that is most likely to determine whether he wins again in 2012.
Only 34 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the economy, a finding linked directly to a surge in gasoline prices to around $4 a gallon. It was the lowest approval for Obama on the economy in the Ipsos poll since he took office in January 2009.
Although employers have been hiring at a faster rate in recent months, Americans are still grappling with 9 percent unemployment.
"The economy and jobs are definitely the No. 1 issues," said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark.
While the successful bin Laden mission pushed Obama's approval rating on handling terrorism to 59 percent, "that is probably not enough to swing an election because we know the economy is the most important issue," Clark said.
American attitudes about whether the country is on the right or wrong track have improved. Now, 56 percent think the country is on the wrong track, a marked improvement from the 69 percent who thought so last month.
The public also weighed in on the budget battle in Washington, and they showed a centrist attitude.
A majority of those surveyed, 52 percent, said they believe a combination of tax increases and spending cuts are best to bring down the $1.4 trillion deficit.
Republican lawmakers in Washington prefer budget cuts to rein in the budget, while Democrats would also like to raise taxes on the wealthy. Obama has called for a fair, balanced plan of budget cuts and tax increases on wealthier Americans.
"I think what this poll is telling is that there is a sensible middle when it comes to deficit reduction," Clark said.
The survey was conducted May 5-9. A randomly selected sample of 1,029 adults was interviewed by telephone, both landlines and cell phones. The results are considered accurate to within 3 percentage points.
Additional reporting by Alistair Bell; Editing by Doina Chiacu