Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the future but voters do not seem to be holding it against Democratic President Barack Obama, who slightly expanded his lead over Republican rival Mitt Romney this month, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll has found.
Three months before the November 6 presidential election, nearly two-thirds of Americans think the country is moving in the wrong direction, according to new poll results released on Wednesday. Only 31 per cent of participants said it is moving in the right direction, the lowest number since December 2011.
But Obama's lead over Romney among registered voters was 49 per cent to 42 per cent, up slightly from the 6-point advantage the president held a month earlier over the former Massachusetts governor.
The results of the monthly poll, in which a majority of voters agreed that the economy is the most important problem facing the United States, suggest that the Obama campaign's efforts to paint Romney as being out of touch with the concerns of middle-class Americans could be preventing the Republican from gaining momentum in the race.
"The overall 'right track, wrong track' is worse than last month, the news hasn't been great lately," Chris Jackson, an Ipsos pollster, said. "But Obama seems to be, to some extent, inoculated against some of the worst of that."
The telephone poll of 1,168 adults, including 1,014 registered voters, was taken from August 2 to August 6. During that period, the Labor Department reported that US employers hired the most workers in five months but that the nation's jobless rate had risen to 8.3 per cent from 8.2 per cent.
Even so, in a reversal from July, registered voters thought Obama was stronger than Romney in dealing with jobs and the economy, and with tax issues.
Obama has also aggravated a culture war battle over contraception on Wednesday as he wooed women voters, warning that Romney's Republicans would turn back the clock to the 1950s.
Obama cranked up his re-election bid in the swing state of Colorado, where a poll showed his White House foe Romney up by five points, vowing Wednesday to protect women's health rights enshrined in his historic health care law.
"When it comes to a woman's right to make her own health care choices, they want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st Century," Obama said, in a stinging attack on Republicans.
Obama argued that Romney's vow to repeal the law would tear away hard-won care for women, including in some cases free birth control, breast cancer screenings and other preventive care insurance firms must now cover.
"The decisions that affect a woman's health, they are not up to politicians, they are not up to insurance companies, they are up to you," he told a raucous rally in Denver, against a backdrop of female supporters.
"You deserve a president who will fight to keep it that way. That's the president I have been. That is the president I will be if I get a second term."
Obama appeared arm in arm with law graduate Sandra Fluke, who was caught in a political maelstrom and branded a "slut" by conservative talk show firebrand Rush Limbaugh this year after saying students should get free contraception.
"If Mr Romney can't stand up to extreme voices in his own party, then we know he will never stand up for us, and he won't defend the rights that generations of women have fought for," Fluke said.
"We must remember that even though it is 2012, we are still having the debates that we thought were won before I was even born."
The president also spoke movingly about the women in his life, including his mother, who died from cancer aged 52 and never got to meet her granddaughters or see her son become president.
"I often think about what might have happened if a doctor had caught her cancer sooner, or if she had been able to spend less time focusing on how she was going to pay her bills and more time on getting well," Obama said.
Romney countered Obama's attack by unveiling his "Women for Mitt" coalition, which will be led by his wife, Ann, and by arguing that female voters had suffered terribly in the slow economic recovery for which he blames Obama.
Ann Romney said her husband "knows how to turn around this economy so that it will better serve the interests of women and families across America".
The president made his pitch in Colorado on a day when a new poll by Quinnipiac University found him trailing Romney by 45 to 50 per cent in the battleground state, which he won in 2008.
Women, who represent about 53 per cent of the US electorate, backed Obama 56-43 per cent over John McCain in the 2008 election.