WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama - bolstered by a stronger economic outlook and recent job growth - would win in a match-up against the two leading Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, a poll on Monday showed.
A Washington Post-ABC News survey of 1,000 adults found that, for the first time, Obama's prospects have brightened against his potential rivals as his overall job approval rating climbed on his handling of the slowly recovering economy.
If the election were held now, Obama would win 51 percent of the vote compared to 45 percent for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and current Republican frontrunner, according to the poll. He would win with 54 percent compared to 43 percent for Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives who has vowed to continuing seeking his party's nomination.
The poll, conducted by telephone from February 1 through February 4, showed Obama won higher marks than Romney when it comes to protecting the middle class and taxes. Those polled also said they trusted Obama more to handle international affairs and terrorism.
But Obama and Romney tied when it came to creating jobs and more of those surveyed said they trusted Romney to handle the economy and the federal budget deficit.
In a statement, the Romney campaign's polling strategist, Neil Newhouse, said the survey was flawed and "introduced specific negative information about Governor Romney immediately prior to asking the ballot match-up against President Obama."
The president's job approval rating rose to 50 percent, according to the survey, which has a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
When asked if Obama deserved a second term as president, 49 percent said yes and 49 percent said no.
In an NBC interview Sunday, Obama said he deserved another term when Americans vote in November. A jobs report on Friday showed the U.S. economy created jobs at the fastest pace in nine months in January. The unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped to 8.3 percent, its lowest level in three years.
Reporting By Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott