President Barack Obama leads Republican challenger Mitt Romney nationally among likely voters, 50 percent to 45 percent, according to a poll released Tuesday night by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

Obama's job approval rating also hit 50 percent among registered voters for the first time since March. Although approval for his handling of foreign policy dropped among Republicans and independents, his approval on economic issues rose by 3 points from August, which Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, noted to NBC:

While none of these numbers is ideal for a president facing re-election, Obama is now tied with Romney (43 percent to 43 percent) on which candidate would be better on the economy. In July, Romney held a 6-point advantage on this question.

Hart, the Democratic pollster, says this finding is potentially ominous for Romney. “Simply put, if Romney doesn’t win on dealing with the economy, he doesn’t win.”

General economic confidence also increased, with 42 percent of voters believing the economy will improve in the next year, up 7 percent from last month.

Both pollsters cautioned that the race is still competitive.

The NBC/WSJ poll surveyed 900 registered voters by phone between Sept. 12 and 16, and had a 3.3 percent margin of error.

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