* Romney viewed positively for first time in campaign

* Republican nominee makes gains on economic issues

* He shores up support among Republican voters

* Obama leads Romney 48 percent to 43 percent in poll (Adds details, background)

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney gained ground on Democratic President Barack Obama after a strong performance in their first debate heading into the Nov. 6 election, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after their prime-time face-off.

Romney is now viewed positively by 51 percent of voters, the first time he has enjoyed a net positive in the U.S. presidential race, the poll found. Obama's favorability rating remained unchanged at 56 percent, according to the poll.

Romney moved ahead of the president on several core issues after Wednesday's debate, which was widely seen as a victory for the Republican candidate.

Voters now see Romney as a better bet to boost the economy, spur job creation and manage the budget deficit, the poll found. He narrowed Obama's advantage on taxes, the Social Security retirement program and the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly and disabled.

Romney's strong performance could make the race more competitive, Ipsos pollster Cliff Young said.

"If he has more debates like this, is able to push through his message and target undecideds, we might see movement in voting intention, but he needs a lot more of this," Young said.

Obama and Romney have two more debates before the election.

The poll found that Obama's 7 percentage point advantage over Romney had narrowed to a lead of 5 percentage points, 48 percent to 43 percent.

The online poll surveyed 536 registered voters on Wednesday and Thursday after the debate. It has a credibility interval of 4.8 percentage points.

A truly accurate reading on the debate's impact on the race will not be possible for several days, Young said. That is because the poll drew on a smaller pool of voters, taken over a shorter period of time, than the Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll that measures the prospects of each candidate.

Romney has trailed Obama in opinion polls since early September and had faced rising criticism from within his own party after a series of campaign missteps.

A secretly recorded video released last month showed Romney at a private fundraiser denigrating 47 percent of Americans as government-dependent victims who pay no taxes and would back Obama "no matter what." That followed Romney's widely criticized response to attacks on U.S. compounds in Libya and Egypt.

Romney needed a strong debate performance to change the dynamics of the race. The poll suggested he may have done so.

Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed said the debate had prompted them to see Romney in a more positive light, while 19 percent said it caused them to view him more negatively and 40 percent said it did not change their opinion.

Obama did not appear to suffer any damage. Fifty-four percent said the debate did not change their opinion of the president, while 16 percent said their opinion had improved and 18 percent said they viewed him more negatively.

Obama's favorability ratings remained unchanged, as 56 percent said they viewed him favorably and 44 percent said they viewed him unfavorably. His standing improved among independents by 8 percentage points.

Romney appears to have made his greatest strides among his fellow Republicans - a development that could help his fundraising and get-out-the vote efforts in the final weeks of the campaign.

Forty-six percent of Republicans said their opinion of Romney was "very favorable" after the debate, a gain of 10 percentage points.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Will Dunham)

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  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) following the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) following the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) following the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (L) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney finish their debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left, shakes hands with President Barack Obama following the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • President Barack Obama shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

  • President Barack Obama hugs First lady Michelle Obama after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left, and President Barack Obama speak after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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    President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talk at the end of the first presidential debate in Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama laugh after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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  • Left, President Barack Obama hugs his wife Michelle with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hugs his wife Ann following the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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  • Mitt Romney, Barack Obama

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  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama gestures during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney gestures during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney smiles as President Barack Obama during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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  • President Barack Obama, right, listens to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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    US President Barack Obama (R) and republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer (C) of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

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    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) speaks during the first presidential debate with US President Barack Obama October 3, 2012 at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

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    President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participate the first presidential debate in Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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    US President Barack Obama listens during his debate with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama debates Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

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    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during his debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer (C) of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

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    DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 03: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks as Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney listens during the Presidential Debate at the University of Denver on October 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The first of four debates for the 2012 Election, three Presidential and one Vice Presidential, is moderated by PBS's Jim Lehrer and focuses on domestic issues: the economy, health care, and the role of government. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

  • Obama And Romney Square Off In First Presidential Debate In Denver

    DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 03: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) speaks as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama (R) listens during the Presidential Debate at the University of Denver on October 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The first of four debates for the 2012 Election, three Presidential and one Vice Presidential, is moderated by PBS's Jim Lehrer and focuses on domestic issues: the economy, health care, and the role of government. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama listens during his debate with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

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    The shadow of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is projected beneath a copy of The Declaration of Independence during the presidential debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney participates in the first presidential debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • President Barack Obama answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during the first presidential debate with President Barack Obama at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney points to President Barack Obama during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama speaks during his debate with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama speaks during his debate with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)