Poll shows Obama lead narrowing
US president Barack Obama's lead over challenger Mitt Romney has narrowed to just two percentage points since the Republican's strong performance in their first debate, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released today.
In more bad news for Mr Obama, one in five voters said the Democrat's performance in the contest in Denver on Wednesday made them feel more negative about him and almost a third said they felt more positive about his Republican challenger.
"Romney did well, he was perceived as doing well, and we're seeing the effect of that today," said Ipsos managing director Cliff Young. "Definitely in the short-term now, he's picking up people because of his performance in the debate."
The online tracking poll conducted between Monday and Friday showed 46 per cent of likely voters backed Mr Obama, versus 44 per cent for Mr Romney.
Mr Obama had led Mr Romney by 6 percentage points in the poll released on Wednesday.
It remained to be seen whether his weak performance in Denver will become a long-term problem for Mr Obama. He has two more chances to redeem himself in debates - a second is set for October 16th and the third is on October 22nd.
More than 9 out of 10 registered voters - 91 per cent - said they had seen, heard or read something about the debate, and 54 per cent said they thought Mr Romney had done a better job.
Thirty per cent said it made them feel more positive toward Mr Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts. That was more than double the 14 per cent who felt better about Mr Obama after watching the two candidates go head-to-head.
Twenty percent said the contest had made them feel more negative about Mr Obama, while 14 percent said it made them feel more negative about Mr Romney.
Obama's campaign got a positive jolt today from a surprisingly strong US unemployment report, in which the monthly jobless rate sank below 8 per cent - to 7.8 per cent - for the first time since January 2009, the month he took office.
That could help him win over the dwindling pool of voters who say they might still change their minds - just 15 per cent of those surveyed.
Mr Obama hailed the unemployment drop, saying the country has "come too far to turn back now".
"Today I believe that as a nation we are moving forward again," Mr Obama told an enthusiastic crowd at a campaign rally at George Mason University in Virginia. "More Americans entered the workforce, more people are getting jobs…It's a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now.”
Mr Romney had made the president's failure to drive the jobless rate below 8 per cent a key plank in his campaign, so the drop to the lowest level since January 2009 could deprive him of some ammunition in the final sprint toward the November 6th election.
Reacting to the data, Mr Romney said the economy remained weak and noted that the unemployment rate would be closer to 11 per cent if it included those who had given up looking for work.
"This is not what a real recovery looks like," he said in a statement.
Taking a veiled swipe at Mr Romney, Mr Obama said: "Today's news is certainly not an excuse to try to talk down the economy to score a few political points."