WASHINGTON: A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows Republican challenger Mitt Romney is favored by 47 percent of likely voters to 45 percent for President Barack Obama just 12 days before Election Day.
The poll shows Obama has ceded his 16-point advantage among women, while largely erasing Romney's edge among men. The tight results among likely voters fall within the poll's margin of sampling error.
Obama's dip in support among women appeared to reflect a drive by Romney in October to show himself as a more moderate candidate after months of campaigning as a hard-right conservative.
Romney's gains also showed his economic argument has made progress with women as he has sought to soften his image. A month ago, women favored Obama over Romney on the economy 56 percent to 40 percent. Now, the split has shifted to 49 percent for Romney and 45 percent for Obama.
The poll showed still showed Obama with a hefty lead, 55 percent to 41 percent, among female likely voters on the question of which candidate would make the right decisions on women's issues.
For all of the good news for Republicans, however, what matters most in the final days before the Nov. 6 election is Romney's standing in the handful of states that still are up for grabs. Polls in a number of those battleground states still appear to favor Obama.
The U.S. presidential election is not decided by nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests.
Romney has narrowed or eliminated Obama leads in many important issues after a commanding first debate performance on Oct. 3. Romney has even gained ground among women on the issue of which candidate better understands voters' problems. Obama's lead among women on that issue was 58 percent to Romney's 36 percent last month. The new poll shows Obama's edge has fallen to 50 percent to Romney's 43 percent.
Having gained ground with women, however, Romney's campaign now must deal with the fallout from a comment by a Romney-endorsed Senate candidate in Indiana, who said that when a woman becomes pregnant during a rape "that's something God intended."
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the incident was "a reminder that a Republican Congress working with a Republican President Mitt Romney would feel that women should not be able to make choices about their own health care."
Mourdock's comment was not what most Republicans wanted to be discussing days before an extremely close election largely focused on concerns about the weak U.S. economic recovery.
The Romney campaign said Wednesday that the presidential nominee disagreed with what Mourdock said but stood by his endorsement of the Senate candidate. Romney opposes abortion but, unlike Mourdock, supports exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Obama, meanwhile, has been working to build his support among men, who tend to be more Republican than women. In the 2008 election, men broke 49 percent for Obama to 48 percent for Republican John McCain, even though Obama got 53 percent of the vote overall. The president's job approval ratings among men have tended to fall below his ratings among women throughout his first term.
A month ago, Romney's advantage among men was 13 percentage points. Now it's down to 5 points, with most of the shift toward Obama coming among unmarried men.
Overall, people are significantly more optimistic about the economy and unemployment in the coming year than they have been at any point in AP-GfK polling going back to March 2011, when the poll first started asking those questions. Likely voters are even more optimistic than other adults.
Nearly six in 10 likely voters think the economy will improve in the next year, up from 46 percent last month. And 42 percent think the number of unemployed Americans will drop in the next year, up from 32 percent in September.
Obama launched a marathon two-day campaign journey Wednesday. In the 17th hour of his day, he spoke before thousands of supporters in Las Vegas. By then it was nearly 1 a.m. in Washington, where his day had begun.
After spending the night on Air Force One, Obama was campaigning in Florida, Virginia, and Ohio before heading back to the White House.
The president was scheduled to stop in his hometown of Chicago to vote, becoming the first president to vote early in person.
Obama and former President Bill Clinton will campaign together Monday for the first time, opening the final full week before Election Day with a three-state battleground blitz in Ohio, Florida and Virginia, three of the most important yet-undecided states. Romney has whittled away the president's earlier leads in Florida and Virginia.
Romney was kicking off a daylong swing through three Ohio towns, sharpening his focus on a state that is critical to his hopes of winning the White House. Public polling has shown Obama with a slim lead.
The Associated Press-GfK poll was conducted Oct. 19-23 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,186 adults across the United States, including 839 likely voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; for likely voters it is 4.2 points.