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Pre-'Romney gaffe' polls show U.S. election race neck-and-neck

(L) Mitt Romney pictured in Lansing, Michigan May 8, 2012 and U.S. President Barack Obama in Port of Tampa in Florida, April 13, 2012.

REUTERS/Rebecca Cook and REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS/Rebecca Cook and REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

It didn't take long for the first TV attack ad featuring Mitt Romney's comment about America's "47 per cent." A pro-Obama group is behind the ad airing in key battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Polls later this week and next will show whether Mr. Romney's behind-the-doors comments to a $50,000-a-head fundraiser in Florida in May have changed the dynamics of what has been a very tight presidential race.

However, four major polls in the last 24 hours do give us an idea of where the race currently stands. The results are a mixed bag – with several polls showing that the race is neck-and-neck.

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The polls may not reflect the current Romney 'gaffe.' But the surveys were conducted during the U.S. embassy crisis in the Middle East which resulted in the deaths of four Americans in Libya, including the U.S. ambassador.

Mr. Romney was criticized for rushing to attack President Barack Obama and his handling of the crisis before the facts were clear.

Here is a quick run-down of the polls and some interesting takeaways:

Associated Press-Gfk: Obama 47 per cent, Romney 46 per cent among likely voters. Obama has a 50+ per cent approval rating.

"Buoyed by good mojo coming out of last month's national political conventions, Obama's approval rating is back above 50 per cent for the first time since May, and the share of Americans who think the country is moving in the right direction is at its highest level since just after the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011," write Nancy Benac and Jennifer Agiesta of Associated Press.

Takeaway: Mr. Obama's approval rating among likely voters looks good at 52 per cent, and 42 per cent of Americans thinking the country is heading in the right direction is an improvement of how voters felt over the summer. But the race remains very tight.

Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times: Obama gaining on economy issues.

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The poll focuses on swing states, where the presidential election will be decided. Mr. Obama leads in Virginia (50 percentage points to 46 percentage points) and Wisconsin (51 to 45). In Colorado, it is neck-and-neck (48-47).

Takeaway: "The president has gained some ground on handling the economy since last month. In August, Romney had an advantage on this issue (including a 10-point lead on it Colorado), but the candidates are now running much closer," according to analysis by CBS. In Colorado, Mr. Romney has a one-point lead on the economy question. In Virginia, the President is ahead by two points; in Wisconsin, it is a three-point advantage.

NBC News/Wall Street Journal: Obama leading 50-45 among likely voters.

This poll shows some improving perceptions among Americans when it comes to the country's direction and the economy: 39 per cent of registered voters think the country is on the right track, a seven-point increase from last month. The percentage of those who feel otherwise is still high at 55 per cent.

Another positive sign for the Obama campaign: 42 per cent feel the economy will improve for the next year. That is a 15-point increase from July.

Takeway: The poll shows that Mr. Obama is now tied with Mr. Romney on the question of who would better handle the economy. "Simply put, if Romney doesn't win on dealing with the economy, he doesn't win," Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who helped carry out the survey with a Republican pollster, told NBC News.

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There is another interesting result. The President continues to hold the advantage in foreign policy (49-46) – but it is a five-point drop from where the President stood before the Libya embassy crisis.

USA Today/Gallup: Mr. Obama leading nationally 47-46; in swing states, Romney within striking distance.

This is a poll that looks at key swing states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

USA Today/Gallup has been monitoring sentiment in these states since last October. Except for the March result – which showed the President with a lead that was outside the margin of error – the two candidates have been neck-and-neck. The latest poll shows a similar result: Mr. Obama leads Mr. Romney 48-46.

Takeaway: As the Gallup analysis points out, Mr. Romney is within striking distance in the swing states. "That current [Obama] advantage could be erased, however, if Republicans vote at higher rates than Democrats, as is usually the case, and if Romney can convince proportionately more undecided and persuadable voters in swing states than Obama can to support his candidacy in the remaining weeks of the campaign."

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