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Confusing polls: Has Mitt Romney closed the gender gap or not?

Mitt Romney has caught up to President Obama among women voters in one poll, but has fallen further behind in another. The truth is unclear, but Obama needs to hold his ground.

By Staff writer / October 25, 2012

President Obama waves to supporters as he takes the stage at a campaign event at Ybor Centennial Park in Tampa, Fla., Thursday.

Chris O'Meara/AP

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.

The political world woke up Thursday morning to completely contradictory polls on the women’s vote.

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The Associated Press finds that the gender gap has all but disappeared from the race for the White House among likely voters. Not only are women now split between Republican Mitt Romney and  President Obama, with each candidate at 47 percent, the AP-GfK poll reports, but also the men’s vote has gravitated toward Mr. Obama, nearly eliminating Mr. Romney’s advantage there. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the poll results for women.]

Bottom line, the race remains close – Romney 47, Obama 45.  

But wait: The latest ABC News/Washington Post daily tracking poll among likely voters, out Wednesday night, finds Obama with a 15-point lead among women, 56-41, while Romney has a 17-point lead among men, 57-40. Overall, the result is another statistical tie – Romney 49, Obama 48 – among likely voters.

Why the big difference? Polling experts note that each poll has its own methodology, and so the two can’t be compared. Each polling outfit has its own criteria for identifying “likely voters,” and weights segments of the population differently. With the election less than two weeks away, polls need to be considered carefully (or sometimes even ignored, when a poll appears to be an outlier).

“There’s just a lot of noise, so it’s hard to figure out what’s going on,” says Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Regardless, one point is clear: Obama can’t afford to lose the gender gap that has worked to the benefit of every Democratic presidential candidate since 1980. At a campaign event Friday morning in Tampa, Fla., the battleground region of the biggest battleground state, Obama reached out to women on health care.

“As we saw again this week, I don’t think any politician in Washington – most of whom are male – should be making health-care decisions for women,” the president said at a rally in Centennial Park.

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