Obama, Romney Vie for Small Pool of Voters

Steven Shepard

The race between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney is a dead heat, according to a new Pew Research Center poll released on Monday, with both candidates fighting over the narrow slice of the electorate that is still undecided. Each candidate earns 47 percent of the vote in the poll, with only 6 percent of likely voters undecided.

The poll represents a slight tightening from the previous Pew Research Center poll, which found Romney narrowly ahead in the wake of the first presidential debate, although all the changes are within the poll's margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.9 percentage points. The poll also depicts a turnout advantage for Republicans, with Romney supporters more likely to say they will cast ballots.

Obama has slipped most acutely among downscale white voters, the poll shows. But both candidates presently fall short of their targets among certain key demographic groups, with those undecided voters likely to play a pivotal role in next week's election.

The poll shows a fairly narrow gender gap, consistent with the previous Pew poll and an Associated Press-GfK poll last week. Romney sports a 7-point lead among men, 51 percent to 44 percent. Obama, meanwhile, leads among women, 50 percent to 44 percent. In the previous Pew poll, Romney led by 8 points among men and tied Obama among women.

Voters under age 30 support Obama by a wide margin, 56 percent to 35 percent. But that represents a decline for the president from his performance with that group in 2008, when he won nearly two-thirds of voters under 30. Voters 65 and older choose Romney by a 19-point margin, 57 percent to 38 percent, up from Sen. John McCain's 8-point edge among seniors in 2008.

Romney leads among white voters, 57 percent to 37 percent, with 6 percent remaining undecided. If the undecided white voters broke evenly between the two candidates on Election Day, that would leave each near his target among whites. It is thought that Obama can win reelection by winning 2 in 5 white voters, while Romney needs to hit the 60-percent mark. White voters make up 74 percent of Pew's sample of likely voters, roughly equal to their share of the 2008 electorate, according to exit polls.

The most significant gap in the vote preferences of white voters occurs between whites with college degrees and those without. College white voters tilt to Romney by a 7-point margin, 51 percent to 44 percent, while noncollege whites favor Romney overwhelmingly, 61 percent to 32 percent.

Obama's declines have been sharpest among noncollege whites, dropping 8 percentage points from the 2008 exit poll, while Romney has added 3 points to McCain's level of support. The president has dropped 3 percentage points among college whites, the poll shows, while Romney has matched McCain's haul.

Obama is seeking to hold onto enough voters in predominantly white states, like Ohio and Wisconsin, which are made up of a larger share of voters without college degrees. At the same time, the changing electorates in states like Virginia and Colorado -- combining sizable minority populations with more educated whites -- boosted his performance in 2008 and may continue to buoy his poll numbers in those states.

But Romney's turnout advantage looms large. His supporters are currently more likely to say they have given a lot of thought to the election, that they are following campaign news very closely, and that they definitely plan to vote. In fact, more than three-quarters of Republicans in the general pool of all respondents are classified as likely voters, while just 63 percent of self-identified Democrats meet that standard.

Voters are more likely to say that Romney has new ideas and would help improve the job situation. But Obama scores higher on being a strong leader, being more moderate, connecting well with ordinary Americans, and on foreign policy.

The poll was conducted Oct. 24 to 28 and surveyed 2,008 adults via landline and cellular telephones. Of those respondents, 1,678 said they were registered to vote, and 1,495 were deemed likely to vote.