Polls show presidential race a dead heat

The trend among likely voters is in Mitt Romney’s direction, even though Barack Obama still holds the edge among all registered voters. Both sides have gender gaps and undecided independent voters to worry about, and the last debate, on Monday night, could be crucial.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Democratic volunteer Phyllis Elmo stands near Republican volunteers Curtis Sisson and Alicia Healy outside an early voting center, in Columbus, Ohio. Voters there have been able to cast ballots by mailing them in or coming to voting centers since Oct. 2.

It’s possible that the presidential race could be closer than it is today – but hard to imagine given what the polls are telling us just 16 days until Election Day.

According to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, out Sunday, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are dead even at 47 percent among likely voters.

This survey was taken after the political combatants’ second debate last week, so it’s current. In the last such poll, taken before the debates began – that is, before Mr. Obama’s dismal performance in the first debate and comeback in the second – Obama was ahead 49 percent to 46 percent.

So the trend among likely voters is in Mr. Romney’s direction, even though Obama still holds a five-point edge (49 percent to 44 percent) among all registered voters. Thus, the Obama campaign’s big get-out-the-vote effort.

Each side’s gender gap is apparent in these latest figures. Romney leads among men (53 percent to 43 percent); Obama is up with women (51 percent to 43 percent).

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As usual, both camps are spinning the numbers.

“We feel good about where we are,” senior Obama adviser David Axelrod told NBS’s David Gregory on "Meet the Press." “You look at the early voting that's going on around the country – it's very robust and it's very favorable to us. And we think that's a better indicator than these public polls, which are frankly all over the map."

Also speaking on "Meet the Press," Sen. Rob Portman, Obama stand-in for Romney’s debate prep, declared that “the enthusiasm and energy is on our side.”

"I like what I see because the trend is in our direction," said Senator Portman.

Burrowing into the weeds of political polling in the presidential race can muddy the picture.

“Romney's recent surge in the polls after his strong performance in his first debate with Obama on Oct. 3 has propelled the Republican into the lead or within striking distance in enough states to give him a reasonable chance of beating Obama to the finish line,” according to a new Reuters analysis.

"Before the first debate the electoral math looked like a real reach for Romney. Today, it looks quite possible," Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown told the news service.

This tentative conclusion is buttressed by another survey out Friday. Gravis Marketing’s automated survey of 805 likely voters has Romney ahead by two points (46 percent to 44 percent). Romney has an eight-point advantage among independents (42 percent to 34 percent). But a substantial one-quarter of independent voters remain undecided – another reason why Monday night’s foreign-policy debate could be crucial, especially for Obama.

Meanwhile, a Reuters/Ipsos daily online tracking poll on Saturday gave Obama a one-point national advantage, with Ipsos projecting an Obama win with 315 electoral votes.

Daily tracking polls have been the subject of recent debate – particularly Gallup’s, which in recent days has shown Romney ahead by up to seven points nationally. That’s an outlier compared with the dead heat seen in the Real Clear Politics polling average of 47 percent to 47 percent.

Gallup is a highly respected organization, and its voter surveys are closely watched. But polling statistician Nate Silver, who writes the FiveThirtyEight blog for The New York Times, notes that in cases where Gallup polls are markedly different from other surveys, Gallup’s numbers typically are off.

That was true in the 2008 presidential election and again in 2010 mid-term elections, writes Mr. Silver.

“To be clear, I would not recommend that you literally just disregard the Gallup poll. You should consider it – but consider it in context,” he writes. “The context is that its most recent results differ substantially from the dozens of other state and national polls about the campaign. It’s much more likely that Gallup is wrong and everyone else is right than the other way around.”

For now – at least as of his Saturday reckoning, based on vast amounts of data – Silver forecasts a 67.9 percent chance of Obama winning a second term as president.

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