Americans appear to be increasingly glum about the future, with almost two-thirds of those surveyed telling Reuters/Ipsos pollsters that they didn't believe the United States was moving in the right direction. That's the highest level in several months in the Reuters survey.
The poll found, however, that Obama's advantage over Romney among registered voters was 49 per cent to 42 per cent, up slightly from the six-point lead he had a month ago in the same survey.
The poll, conducted for five days ending Monday, reached Americans on both landlines and cellphones — a feature some experts consider significant as Nov. 6 looms, since cellphone-only households tend to skew Democrat.
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll, also conducted via landlines and cellphones, suggests that the number of Americans who view Romney negatively has increased to 49 per cent from 45 per cent since May. Forty per cent have a favourable opinion of the millionaire presidential hopeful.
Obama fares better, with his favourable-versus-unfavourable rating at 53 per cent to 43.
Romney, in fact, has the lowest personal popularity levels for a presidential challenger at this mid-summer juncture in an election year since ABC and the Post started conducting their poll in 1984.
Even Democrat Walter Mondale, trounced by Ronald Reagan in the election three months later, had a 53 per cent favourability rating, compared with the 40 per cent who viewed him negatively.
Indeed, Mondale's numbers prove that mid-summer polls are all but meaningless, one polling expert said Wednesday.
"Michael Dukakis was also beating George H. W. Bush good in the summer of 1988," said Andrew Smith, head of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
"Jimmy Carter was way ahead of Reagan in the summer of 1980. History has shown us time and again that polls in the summer just aren't good indicators of what's truly going on, because the biggest difficulty is whether the people you're reaching are even going to show up and vote at all."
Neither does Smith believe polls are becoming more accurate because they're including more cellphones.
"The people who are most likely to be in cellphone-only households are much less likely to vote — they're younger, they're lower income, they're often unestablished, and many tend to be immigrants," he said.
"People with landlines, on the other hand, are more likely to own their own homes, they're older, they make more money — in other words, they're the people who get out to vote. So by including cellphone-only households, you're simply shoving a whole lot of non-voters into your sample."
In the summer preceding a presidential election, economic numbers are far more important for both candidates than poll numbers, Smith added — although he noted there are undoubtedly some warning signs for Romney in his favourability ratings.
The Post/ABC survey suggests those who hadn't made up their minds about Romney a year ago have now formed an opinion, and he's trending downwards — a phenomenon Smith says is almost entirely due to the effectiveness of Obama's negative campaign against his challenger.
Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, put on a brave face Wednesday during a CNN appearance when she was asked about her boss's likeability factor.
"The more people learn about Mitt Romney, the more they are going to like him, and the more that they see that they can trust him to turn this economy around," Saul said.
"President Obama has not been able to get the job done, and that's why middle-class Americans are suffering so much."
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, on the other hand, argued the opposite: "They are getting to know Mitt Romney and they aren't liking what they're seeing."
Both polls were conducted as the Obama re-election campaign continued to batter Romney for his refusal to release more tax returns while portraying him as a wealthy man out of touch with the average American. They've also maligned his taxation proposals as "Robin Hood in reverse," suggesting he'll take from the poor to give to the rich.
A new jobs report was also released during the same period. It found more 160,000 jobs were created in July.
Among respondents to the Reuters/Ipsos poll, 46 per cent of registered voters said they believe Obama is the better candidate on jobs and the economy, compared with 44 per cent for Romney. On taxation proposals, 49 per cent of respondents said they considered Obama stronger, while 38 per cent said they sided with Romney.
Real Clear Politics' tracking of seven polls, meantime, suggests an average three per cent lead for Obama nationally.