Gallup: Romney takes lead nationally

Mitt Romney edged President Obama in Gallup’s first national survey of likely voters in the 2012 race, released Tuesday.

Romney took 49 percent support against Obama at 47 percent.

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Among registered voters, which Gallup has been tracking all year, Obama maintains an advantage of 3 percentage points over Romney, 49 to 46 percent.

Gallup polls only registered voters early in the cycle, but as Election Day nears, it prods for more information from voters to determine the likelihood that a registered voter will end up casting a ballot.

Many believe surveys of likely voters are more accurate than those that only survey registered voters. However, Gallup noted that sometimes, as in 2008, “there was only a marginal difference between the vote choices of registered voters and likely voters,” while other times, as in 1996, “there was a much more substantial difference.”

“Neither result provides a candidate with a statistically significant lead,” Frank Newport wrote in his Gallup analysis. “But together they do underscore the competitive nature of the election and indicate that Romney at this point benefits from turnout patterns, given the five-point swing in his favor when the transition is made from registered voters to likely voters.”

Polling experts are struggling to get a handle on what the recent raft of survey data signals in light of Romney’s convincing debate win and recent spike in the polls.

The New Republic’s polling analyst, Nate Cohn, said despite the narrow likely voter lead for Romney, the Gallup data actually showed his post-debate bounce dissipating. He argued there’s been a marked shift back towards Obama among registered voters, which is reflected in Obama’s rising job-approval numbers.

According to Gallup, 53 percent approve of the job the president is doing, against 42 percent who disapprove — a better approval rating than the president had after the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

But there’s no doubt that Romney has seen a spike in the polls since last week’s debate.

The three most recent national polls all show Romney with the lead, and he has overtaken Obama in the Real Clear Politics average of polls for the first time this year.

The real argument among polling analysts is whether this bump will last, something that will become apparent in the days ahead.

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