A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released early Monday shows rising Republican enthusiasm following the first presidential debate, but GOP nominee Mitt Romney does not gain ground on the ballot test, as the percentage of voters who say the nation is on the wrong track fell to its lowest point in nearly three years.
Overall, the poll shows President Obama leading Romney among likely voters, 49 percent to 46 percent, well within the poll's margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points. Four percent said they preferred another candidate, neither candidate or were undecided. That compares to a 2-point Obama lead in late-September, 49 percent to 47 percent, prior to the first presidential debate.
Each candidate wins more than 90 percent of their own partisans, but independents tilt toward the challenger, 48 percent to 42 percent. Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the poll, 35 percent to 26 percent, among likely voters.
The poll shows only a slight gender gap. The two candidates are neck-and-neck among men, 48 percent to 47 percent. But among female voters, Obama has the edge, 51 percent to 44 percent.
Romney leads Obama among white voters, 54 percent to 43 percent, but Obama's 43-percent share among whites matches his 2008 performance and it one of his best scores among this subgroup in recent surveys. That includes 42 percent of the vote among whites without a college degree, again higher than other surveys. Among nonwhites, Obama leads, 73 percent to 18 percent.
More than 3-in-5 likely voters who chose one of the two candidates say they are very enthusiastic about their preferred candidate, up from last month. Perhaps more important, just as many Romney supporters (62 percent) say they are very enthusiastic as Obama supporters (60 percent).
Furthermore, more voters are now confident in Romney's prospects on Election Day, with 51 percent saying they are "very" or "somewhat" confident he'll be elected. Just 48 percent have that level of confidence in Obama's reelection.
But the increase in enthusiasm for the GOP ticket is counterbalanced by improving views of the direction of the country. Forty-two percent of likely voters think the country is headed in the right direction, compared to 56 percent who say it is on the wrong track. That is the best net score on this measure since the first year of Obama's presidency.
The poll was conducted Oct. 10-13, surveying 923 likely voters.