Washington: As President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney prepared hard for the crucial first presidential debate, a new national poll showed the race for the White House remains a close one.
The overall head-to-head result among likely voters surveyed for the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll matched the latest CNN Poll of Polls, which is an average of this new poll and six other recent surveys conducted in the past week.
The NBC/WSJ survey released Tuesday found that 49 percent of likely voters support Obama while 46 percent back Romney. The three-point margin is within the sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
CNN cited Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the Tuesday sample with a Republican pollster, as saying the numbers show Obama "has the better hand."
Obama and Romney will go head-to-head Wednesday in the first presidential debate in Denver, Colorado.
Only 22 percent of registered voters in the NBC/WSJ poll said this season's debates figure into their selection process as "extremely important," while the largest number—34 percent — said the debates will be "somewhat important" to their November decision.
Asked about the country's direction, 53 percent said America is on the wrong track while 40 percent said it is on the right track, showing only slight movement from an NBC/WSJ poll conducted last month.
Approval ratings for Obama as well as opinions on how the president is handling the economy are also nearly unchanged from the mid-September sample.
The economy, which the moderator of Wednesday's debate has said will be the focus of about half the debate, is the primary issue to a plurality of voters: 46 percent considered it the most important issue. Social issues and values followed with 15 percent, while Social Security, health care, deficit, foreign policy and other topics lagged behind.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll included 832 likely voters reached by telephone between Sep 26 and 30.
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