But beneath the head-to-head numbers, the results foreshadow some tough times ahead for Obama. Voters appear to be processing the worsening economic news belatedly, and their pessimism shows in spades. In the CBS/NYT poll, Obama’s job approval dropped to 44 percent, with only 39 percent approving of his economic performance – down five points from April. For the first time since January, more voters now think the economy is getting worse. Nearly two-thirds of voters now place some blame on the president for the weak economic conditions, with 34 percent giving him “significant” responsibility. An outright 52 percent majority of independents believe Obama will “never improve” the economy. These aren’t numbers that victories are made of.

And in a sign that the newfound negative tone of the campaign may be backfiring, the poll showed Obama’s favorability ratings – always his strong suit – at an all-time low as president. Only 36 percent in the NYT/CBS poll view him favorably, a six-point drop over the last three months, with 48 percent viewing him unfavorably. Romney’s favorables aren’t good, either – 32/36 fav/unfav – but mutually assured destruction isn’t going to win the election for the president.