COLUMBUS, Ohio — President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney enter the closing week of the campaign in an exceedingly narrow race, according to the latest poll by The New York Times and CBS News, with more voters now viewing Romney as a stronger leader on the economy and Obama as a better guardian of the middle class.
The president is holding his coalition together with strong support from women and minority voters and is supported by 48 percent of likely voters nationwide, the poll found, while Romney holds a wide advantage among independents and men and is the choice of 47 percent.
The race for the White House, which has been interrupted by Hurricane Sandy’s deadly assault on the East Coast, is heading toward an uncertain conclusion. The president canceled another day of campaign events Wednesday, while Romney has scaled back his events until the severity of the storm damage is assessed.
In the final days, the most intense competition between Obama and Romney has narrowed to seven states, but the national poll illustrates why the Romney campaign is working to expand the battleground and seize upon the deep concern in the electorate about whether the president should win a second term.
The economy continues to be the overwhelming issue on the minds of voters, with about three-quarters selecting the economy as either their first or second most important concern. Another 23 percent named the budget deficit as one of their top two issues. Most voters consider Romney the better candidate to deal with both of those challenges.
The president has a slight edge on terrorism and foreign policy, but the poll found that Romney may have made some inroads with his strong critique of how Obama managed the Libya crisis after the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three others in Benghazi. When asked specifically about the administration’s handling of the attacks on the consulate in Libya, the poll found that only 38 percent of voters approved and 51 percent disapproved.
A week before the election, even as millions of Americans have already cast their ballots through early-voting programs in many states, voters are closely divided between the candidates, with men and women practically mirror images of each other. The poll found that Obama is supported by 52 percent of women and 44 percent of men, while Romney is preferred by 51 percent of men and 44 percent of women.
Throughout the campaign, most voters have given Obama the advantage over Romney when asked which candidate understands their needs and problems. And even more see Obama as the candidate who appreciates the issues faced by working women. Two-thirds of voters, both men and women, said Obama understands the problems of women in the workforce, while 46 percent said the same about Romney.
But slightly more voters describe Romney as a strong leader than they do Obama.
As Romney seeks to emphasize the moderate elements of his record, the poll found that voters across the country see deep philosophical differences between the two candidates, with 67 percent saying that Romney would very closely or somewhat closely follow the policies of former President George W. Bush.
Since becoming the Republican presidential nominee, Romney has become more moderate, according to 33 percent of voters, while 18 percent said he has moved more to the right. Among those who say Romney’s positions have become more moderate, 42 percent still say he is too conservative, 44 percent say his political values are about right and 11 percent say he is not conservative enough.
The poll was conducted in the days before Sandy hit the East Coast. The telephone interviews were conducted Thursday through Sunday, although they were originally intended to continue through Tuesday evening. Although the survey was cut short by the approaching storm, all numbers in the sample were attempted at least once.
The nationwide survey was conducted by land lines and cell phones to reach 898 adults, of whom 798 said they were registered to vote. The likely voter model includes voting history, attention to the campaign and likelihood of voting. Party identification for likely voters has been adjusted to its average in the two most recent polls by The Times and CBS News. The margin of sampling error for 563 likely voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points.