Obama inches ahead of Romney in RealClearPolitics average of polls

President Obama has pulled narrowly ahead of Mitt Romney in the closely watched RealClearPolitics average of national polls.

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Obama has 47.4 percent support compared to 47.3 percent for Romney, according to the RCP average on Thursday.

The latest averages reflect a trend showing a gradual tightening of the race in the campaign's closing days. 

Romney had gained a small national lead in the RCP poll average on the strength of his victory in the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 in Denver. 

Over the last three weeks, the national race has stabilized, with Romney maintaining about a 1-point lead over the president.

However, a handful of recent national polls have shown incremental movement towards Obama — now reflected in the near deadlock between Obama and his GOP challenger.

A Fox News poll released late Wednesday showed the candidates tied with 47 percent support each. The same poll from mid-October showed Romney with a 1-point lead. A Pew Research survey released this week also showed the candidates with 47 percent apiece. In the previous Pew poll, Romney had opened up a 4-point lead over the president.

The RCP average still includes Gallup’s daily tracking survey — conducted between Oct. 22-28 — that shows Romney with a 5-point lead. 

Gallup's poll had been receiving a lot of attention because it had shown Romney’s lead among likely voters to be outsized in comparison to other polls. 

For nine out of the last 12 days Gallup surveyed, Romney led Obama by between 5 and 7 points among likely voters.

Gallup suspended its national polling operations on Oct. 29 because of Hurricane Sandy. A statement posted on its website late Wednesday indicated poll watchers should be skeptical of any national polls released this week and before Election Day.

“It is impossible to adequately weight to compensate for large segments of the population who cannot be reached at all in a survey, or in very low percentages, and whose opinions may have changed from previous, pre-storm measures,” Gallup CEO Frank Newport wrote.

“Basically, we reached the conclusion that Superstorm Sandy had compromised the ability of a national survey to provide a nationally representative assessment of the nation’s voting population.”

Newport said widespread power outages compromised cellphone service. Further, he said the general disruption of people’s lives in a highly populated region make it impossible to gauge whether someone is a likely voter, or will even be able to make it to the polls on Election Day.

Gallup has tentative plans to resume polling on Thursday, but said it won’t release its findings if it believes the sample size is compromised.

Problems caused by Sandy add more uncertainty to polls that have already vexed voters and campaign insiders because of their seemingly contradictory signals.

While Romney maintained a small national lead for most of October, Obama has led in the bulk of the swing states that will be critical in determining the outcome of the election. 

Many analysts believe the national and state polls will converge before Election Day, but only five days out, that’s yet to happen.

According to the RCP averages of the swing states, Obama has small leads in Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa, while Romney has small leads in Florida and North Carolina.

In Colorado and Virginia, the candidates are separated by less than 1 point in the average of polls.

At least 16 major polls of battleground states have been released so far on Thursday, with firms disagreeing on who has the lead in almost half of the states.

— This story was initially published at 4 p.m. 

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