WASHINGTON: A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney still in a virtual tie with the Nov. 6 election just weeks away, but voters expressed more optimism about the struggling economy.
The poll was taken before the furor over remarks Romney made in a secretly taped video nearly four months ago, in which he told wealthy donors that nearly half of Americans believe they are victims and entitled to government support. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," Romney said in the video, posted online Monday by the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine.
The new poll, released Wednesday, showed 47 percent of likely voters backed Obama, while 46 percent sided with Romney. Among all adults, Obama is favored by 52 percent of Americans, with 37 percent for Romney.
"This has not been the best three weeks in the history of American politics for the Romney campaign," Republican consultant Rich Galen said. But he said the economy remains "a great weight around the ankles of Obama."
Romney has neither disavowed nor apologized for his remarks in the video. Instead, he has cast his comments as evidence of a fundamental difference with Obama over the economy, adding the U.S. government should not "take from some to give to the others."
The U.S. income tax is designed to be progressive, so those who earn the most theoretically pay the most. The government collects tax revenue and pays it out in the form of benefits as diverse as health care and food stamps for those who qualify. Among those who don't pay taxes, in addition to the poor, are many elderly and members of the military.
Romney aggressively attacked Obama at a fundraiser Wednesday, calling himself the only candidate equipped to help poor and middle-class Americans.
"The question of this campaign is not who cares about the poor and the middle class," Romney said. "I do. He does. The question is who can help the poor and the middle class. I can. He can't."
Romney stood by his view of what the government's role should be.
America "does not work by a government saying, 'Become dependent on government, become dependent upon redistribution,'" Romney told 900 donors who paid as much as $50,000 each to attend. "That will kill the American entrepreneurship that's lifted our economy over the years."
Romney pointed out a video of Obama from 1998 when the then-state senator said he believed in redistribution, "at least to a certain level to make sure everybody's got a shot."
White House spokesman Jay Carney suggested Romney's efforts to push the 14-year-old video were the work of a candidate having "a very bad day or a very bad week."
"In circumstances like that, there are efforts made, sometimes very desperate efforts made to change the subject," Carney said.
With early voting scheduled to be under way in two dozen states by week's end, just 17 percent of likely voters remain undecided or say they might change their minds, according to the new Associated Press-GfK Poll. Both campaigns hope to lock in votes long before Election Day.
The first of three presidential debates is scheduled for Oct. 3.
The new poll was conducted Sept. 13-17. While Obama has seen a general upswing in voter opinion, the poll shows 61 percent of likely voters describe the economy as poor. Just over half think the economic outlook has gotten worse over the last four years. And 57 percent think unemployment will get worse or stay the same over the next four years.
But a growing number of voters thinks circumstances will get better in the coming year - 48 percent, up from 41 percent before the Democratic and Republican national conventions a few weeks ago.
The sluggish economy and lingering high unemployment are by far the overriding issues of the election, and Romney's case for the presidency is based on his claim that his success as a businessman proves he will succeed in creating jobs in a nation where unemployment is 8.1 percent.
Obama and the Democrats have tried to counter by depicting Romney as a multimillionaire who has some of his wealth invested in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere overseas and is out of touch with the needs of middle class Americans.
Obama was engaged in a rare full day at the White House on Wednesday, including a private meeting with Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Romney was holding two events in Miami, including a candidate forum with the Spanish-language TV network Univision.