The race between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney is deadlocked among likely voters in the Nov. 6 general election, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday.
The poll indicates a slight shift in Romney’s favor since late September, when the GOP presidential nominee trailed 49 percent to 46 percent among likely voters in the two news organizations' polling.
The newest poll shows Obama with a slight advantage among a wider universe of registered voters. That finding, consistent with other surveys, suggests that if Republicans are successful in denying Obama a second term, it will be driven in part by a turnout advantage over the Democrats.
Obama and Romney are tied among likely voters in the poll, each with 47 percent of the vote. Among all registered voters, Obama holds a lead over Romney, 49 percent to 44 percent.
The poll also shows a significant gender gap, with Romney leading among male voters likely to cast ballots, by 53 percent to 43 percent, while Obama leads among women likely to vote, 51 percent to 43 percent.
Ahead of Monday’s presidential debate over foreign policy, the poll reported Romney had closed the once wide gap over which candidate could better manage the country’s international affairs. Obama led by just 3 percentage points over Romney when respondents were asked who would be a better commander-in-chief, 44 percent to 41 percent, a 5-point swing toward Romney from late September.
But that question was asked of registered voters, a group generally more favorable to Romney, meaning his advantage on a key foreign policy question is possibly smaller, if not erased entirely, among likely voters.
Obama maintained large leads on several other important metrics, such as likeability, dealing with issues of concern to women, and looking out for the middle class.
Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod dismissed the poll Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, pointing out that the network had sponsored polls this week showing the president with a sizable lead in the battleground states of Iowa and Wisconsin. Axelrod said he is more focused on early voting, which he says has favored Obama, than public polling, which he called “all over the map.”
Regardless, he added, it’s not a surprise that the race would be close with two weeks left. “If you look back on tape, every time I've visited with you, I've predicted this is going to be a close race,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., pointed to a shrinking gender gap as evidence that Obama’s message to women is starting to wither because he doesn't talk enough about his plans to turn the economy around in his second term.
“What’s he going to do the next four years so women can find jobs?” Rubio asked. “That’s the number one issue in America. That’s the number two issue in America.”
The poll was conducted Oct. 17-20 by Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff. It consisted of interviews with 1,000 registered voters, 816 of whom were deemed likely to vote. The margin of error for the full poll was plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points, with a slightly higher margin of plus-or-minus 3.4 percentage points for likely voters.
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