WASHINGTON Republican challenger Mitt Romney has pulled ahead of President Barack Obama in the race for the White House for the first time in more than a month and leads 45 percent to 44 percent among likely voters, according to a Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll released on Wednesday.
With just under four weeks to go before the November 6 election, Romney's surge followed his strong performance against Obama in last week's debate and erased a jump in support that Obama had enjoyed following the September 3-6 Democratic National Convention.
The poll showed that voters have warmed to Romney across a range of policy issues following the debate.
On Tuesday, the tracking poll had the two candidates tied at 45 percent. Obama had a steady lead in the daily tracking poll for most of September after the Democratic convention but Romney narrowed the gap after the debate and finally inched ahead on Wednesday.
"We have always felt that this was going to be a very close election and the numbers now reflect that - they are head to head, which is where they were pre- both conventions," said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark.
"This is where they'll remain, with some movement of course, until we hit Election Day," Clark said.
Romney gained significant ground against Obama among registered voters on a number of economic policy issues from October 6-10, compared to the four-day period leading up to the October 3 debate on domestic policy.
"Romney has made significant gains in terms of his perception with voters," Clark said. "He has really caught up to Obama on some key issues. The debate was perhaps the trigger, and the positive coverage Romney gained from the debate ... is also part of the explanation on this."
Poll respondents said Romney was best placed to handle the U.S. economy, help fix unemployment and deal with the federal deficit.
Romney's best showing against Obama was for his plan to tackle the federal deficit. A total of 39 percent of registered voters said Romney had a better approach to the deficit, compared to 27 percent for Obama. The two were tied at 33 percent on that issue before the debate.
While Obama lost some ground to Romney, poll respondents still said the president had the better approach on healthcare, the Social Security retirement program, the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, gay marriage and the fight against terrorism.
On taxes, Obama still had an edge over Romney but the president's support dropped by 7 percentage points while Romney's rose by 4 percentage points.
The online survey of 1,027 likely voters was conducted between October 6 and October 10. The precision of the poll is measured using a credibility interval, which is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Among the 1,199 registered voters questioned, the credibility interval is plus or minus 3.3 percent.
(Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Alistair Bell and Will Dunham)