Last Pew poll before election shows President Obama’s rebound from low point after first debate

WASHINGTON—The latest poll by The Pew Research Center shows Barack Obama rebounding and edging ahead of Mitt Romney in the final days of the campaign, after the president’s favorability dropped significantly following his lackluster performance in the first debate last month.

Obama now holds a 48 percent to 45 percent lead over Romney, according to Pew’s national survey of likely voters last week. When undecided voters are taken into account in Pew’s final estimate of the national popular vote on election day, Obama maintains the lead at 50 percent to Romney’s 47 percent.

The uptick is significant given that just a week ago, before the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy along the East Coast, the candidates were deadlocked at 47 percent each. Pew researchers attribute Obama’s growth in popularity in part to how he handled the storm’s aftermath, which earned a 69 percent approval rating among likely voters, including the majority of swing voters.

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“Sandy was the biggest story of the week, not the campaign, so there is reason to think that was the dominant thing on people’s minds, especially for people who were still on the fence,” said Michael Dimock, associate director at The Pew Research Center For The People & The Press. “People may well be thinking about what they want the government to do for them in a way they weren’t a week and a half ago.”

Obama saw the sharpest gain in the Northeast, another reason to suggest that the storm was a contributing factor, Dimock said.

“The only downside for Obama is that was a region he was already leading in by a wide margin,” Dimock said. “If he builds his numbers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, well, he probably wasn’t going to lose those states anyway.”

Obama has also regained some, if not all, of his support among women, many of whom had shifted towards Romney after the first debate. Women now favor Obama by a 13-point margin, up from a six-point margin a week ago and a tie following the first debate in early October.

Both campaigns have aired ads in recent weeks targeting women, highlighting abortion and reproductive rights, as well as education and healthcare—issues women traditionally care more about than men, though on which they are not unified.

The Romney campaign especially has felt the pressure to “address some of the foibles of other Republicans that got a lot of attention,” Dimock said. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock referred to pregnancies that result from rape as “something that God intended to happen” while explaining his anti-abortion views during a debate.

In addition to women, Obama has also made gains among older voters and political moderates, the Pew survey showed. Political moderates favor Obama by a 21-point margin.

Romney continues to lead among voters 65 and up, but his lead among seniors has dropped from a 19-point margin a week ago to a nine-point margin.

The Pew poll also showed that voters in the nine battleground states are as closely divided as the nation—49 percent of likely voters support Obama and 47 percent support Romney.

Romney supporters are more certain to vote—92 percent versus 86 percent of Obama supporters. Romney supporters are also more engaged, with more of them saying that they have given a lot of thought to the election and are following news of the campaign very closely.