WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama - bolstered by a stronger economic outlook and recent job growth - would win in a match-up against the two leading Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, a poll on Monday showed.

A Washington Post-ABC News survey of 1,000 adults found that, for the first time, Obama's prospects have brightened against his potential rivals as his overall job approval numbers climbed on his handling of the slowly recovering economy.

If the election were held now, Obama would win 51 percent of the vote against Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and current Republican front-runner, according to the poll. He would win with 54 percent against Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives who has vowed to fight for his party's nomination.

The poll, conducted by telephone from Feb. 1 through Feb. 4, showed Obama won higher marks than Romney when it comes to protecting the middle class and taxes. Those polled also said they trusted Obama more to handle international affairs and terrorism.

But Obama and Romney tied when it came to creating jobs and more of those surveyed said they trusted Romney to handle the economy and the federal budget deficit.

The president's job approval rating rose to 50 percent, according to the survey, which has a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

When asked if Obama deserved a second term as president, 49 percent said yes and 49 percent said no.

In an NBC interview Sunday, Obama said he deserved another term when Americans vote in November. A jobs report on Friday showed the US economy created jobs at the fastest pace in nine months in January. The unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped to 8.3 percent, its lowest level in three years.

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