By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's announcement of support for gay marriage has inflamed political passions but has not given him a bump in popularity, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.
Roughly a third of Americans view Obama more favorably and a third less favorably because of his announcement last week that he supports the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed.
Obama said his backing of gay marriage was a personal decision, but the announcement set off a fierce political debate and speculation about whether it will help him in November's presidential election.
Thirty-one percent of Americans have a higher opinion of Obama because of his gay marriage decision and 30 percent see him less favorably. Forty percent say the announcement had no impact on their view of the president, the online poll found.
Independents - voters in the political middle who normally hold the key to victory in presidential elections - were also split, with 19 percent viewing him more favorably and 26 percent less favorably. Fifty-four percent of independents said it had no impact on their opinion.
Obama is neck-and-neck with his likely Republican opponent in the November 6 election, Mitt Romney, with economic and social issues dominating the campaign.
A New York Times/CBS News poll on Tuesday showed Romney with a 46 percent to 43 percent edge over Obama, and a USA Today survey showed former businessman Romney as the candidate rated higher on his ability to handle the economy.
The gay marriage issue has harmed his efforts to focus the campaign on Obama's economic record but it has increased his status with conservative Republicans.
SPLIT ON PARTY LINES
In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, Republicans and Democrats held sharply divergent views on gay marriage. Fifty-three percent of Democrats in the Reuters/Ipsos poll said they had a higher opinion of Obama after his announcement, while 56 percent of Republicans regarded him less favorably.
The split in support over gay marriage could be helpful to Republicans as they are historically more successful at mobilizing their supporters over hot social issues, Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said, adding there was "extreme polarization" between the two parties.
The New York Times poll showed most Americans believe Obama took his position on same-sex marriage due to political motivation rather than because he "thinks it is right."
Senior administration officials described his decision last week as both personal and political.
Romney was obliged to address the gay rights issue last week when a report was published that he and others at his Michigan high school bullied a fellow student who was presumed to be gay. Romney apologized for what he called high school pranks that may have hurt others.
Only 53 percent of the respondents in the Reuters/Ipsos poll had heard of the alleged bullying incident. Twenty eight per cent said they viewed Romney less favorably in light of the incident while 5 percent said they viewed him more favorably.
Members of the two parties reacted very differently to the reports, with 46 percent of Democrats saying they viewed the former Massachusetts governor less favorably and 11 percent of Republicans saying they viewed him less favorably.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted from May 11-15 with a sample of 1,174 Americans. The precision of Reuters/Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all respondents.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and David Storey)