Turnout critical as polls put Obama and Romney level

Obama is level among likely voters, but ahead among all voters: can he persuade his supporters to turn out?

LAST UPDATED AT 10:17 ON Mon 22 Oct 2012

HOURS before the final presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida tonight, polls suggest the race for the White House is a dead heat. President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney are tied on 47 per cent in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, while in the crucial swing state of Ohio, Romney has cut Obama’s lead from six per cent to two per cent.

Meanwhile, a Public Policy Polling survey puts the rivals even on 48 per cent - and within two per cent of each other in the swing states of Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire and Virginia.

Democratic campaign adviser David Axelrod dismissed NBC’s findings, telling the network’s Meet the Press: "You guys also issued polls in the last week that showed us with an eight-point lead in Iowa, I think we had a lead in Ohio, you’ve showed us having a lead in Florida. I don’t know how to square all the polling that NBC is releasing.

"I do think that this is going to be a very close race, and we've said that consistently. We feel good about where we are. We feel we’re even or ahead in these battleground states."

Obama got a boost in one those states over the weekend when the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s largest newspaper, endorsed the incumbent 'without hesitation". The paper added: 'We would like the president to present a sharper vision for a second term. But Obama has capably steered the nation through an incredibly difficult period at home and abroad, often with little help from Congress.

'The next four years will not be easy for whoever occupies the Oval Office, but Obama has been tested by harsh circumstance and proven himself worthy of a second term."

With the race so tight, turnout on the night is looking ever more critical – a fact borne out by a closer look at NBC’s latest poll. Obama is tied with Romney among likely voters. If all registered voters are taken into account, Obama leads Romney by 49 per cent to 44.

Ben Macintyre highlights this in The Times: 'The real threat to the President lies less in voters switching from Democrat to Republican than in those people who voted for Mr Obama with relish in 2008 - many for the first time in their lives - who simply may not bother this time around."

Turnout is key, he adds, recounting a meeting with a Republican event organiser in Michigan who told him: 'Obama’s natural supporters - students, African-Americans, blue-collar workers - are those most likely to stay at home at the last minute. The Republican faithful reliably turn out. If it rains on the night, that could tip it."

Tonight’s final debate will also be crucial. Obama goes into the event with an advantage, given that it will cover international affairs. This is an issue on which, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza notes, registered voters trust the president more than Romney by a ten-point margin.

The election will not be decided on matters of foreign policy, writes Cillizza, but 'people want and expect that a candidate has the knowledge and vision to represent the United States on the world stage". · 

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