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Obama holds slim lead over Romney before next debate

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during remarks at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada September 12, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during remarks at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada September 12, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama retained a slim lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Monday, as he appeared to have stemmed the bleeding from his poor first debate.

Three weeks before the November 6 U.S. election, Obama leads Romney by 2 percentage points, with 47 percent support from likely voters in the national online poll, to 45 percent support for Romney.

The margin was small enough to be a virtual tie, but Obama's slight edge broadened from Sunday, when he went ahead of Romney by 1 point after falling behind in the wake of Romney's decisive victory in their first presidential debate on October 3.

"Romney received a bump from that first debate, but the very nature of a bump is it recedes again," Ipsos vice president Julia Clark said. "We're now seeing Obama regaining a little bit of a foothold as we go into the second debate. They go into the debate on equal footing."

The two men meet again on Tuesday night at New York's Hofstra University in a debate that Obama needs to win to grab back the campaign momentum. The third debate is set for October 22 in Boca Raton, Florida.

Obama's support in the new Reuters/Ipsos survey was particularly strong among the 10 percent of registered voters who have already cast their ballots. Fifty-five percent said they voted for the Democrat, compared to 43 percent for his Republican challenger.

POLICY GAINS

Romney and his fellow Republicans have been hitting Obama hard over his handling of diplomatic security, blaming his administration for attacks in Egypt and Libya on September 11. The U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in Libya.

But the poll did not find a groundswell of condemnation for the White House. Forty-five percent of registered voters approved of Obama's handling of the situation in Libya and Egypt and 40 percent disapproved. Thirty-eight percent backed Romney on the issue, compared with 36 percent who did not.

The incumbent also regained ground in several policy areas since the first week after his bad debate.

Forty-two percent of registered voters said they thought Obama had a better plan for healthcare, compared with 35 percent who said the same of Romney. Obama's rating was up 4 points from October 10.

Obama's ratings on taxes also went up by four points, as did voters' view of his plans for Social Security and Medicare by 3 points each.

Romney's scores each went up by 3 points on how he would handle the war on terrorism and gay marriage, although Obama was still ahead on both.

Thirty-seven percent of registered voters picked Obama as having better policies for dealing with terrorism, compared with 32 percent for Romney. And 43 percent favored Obama on gay marriage, compared with Romney's 25 percent.

Romney kept a big lead of 38 percent to 29 percent on who has a better plan for handling the deficit, and a small lead of 38-37 percent on who would better handle the U.S. economy. Obama was just ahead, at 39 percent to 38 percent, on jobs and employment.

The precision of Reuters/Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points for registered voters and 2.6 for likely voters.

(Editing By Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)

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