Obama has 5-point lead on McCain

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama has a 5-point lead over Republican John McCain in the U.S. presidential race, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/ZOGBY poll released on Thursday.

Obama leads McCain by 49 percent to 44 percent among likely U.S. voters in the latest four-day tracking poll, up slightly from a 4-point lead on Wednesday. The poll has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

The poll was taken before Wednesday’s debate between the two candidates, their third and final televised match-up before the November 4 election.

Pollster John Zogby said the results have remained in a relatively narrow range since the poll began on October 7, with Obama, an Illinois senator, holding on to a consistent if narrow lead of between 2 and 6 percentage points.

“For McCain, he is in the game but he is not moving, and that’s what he has to be concerned about,” he said.

Zogby speaking before Wednesday’s debate in which the candidates squared off on domestic and economic policy, said it might give McCain a chance to change some minds, especially among the independent voters that both sides are wooing.

“That’s why this debate becomes more important than normal. Does McCain get into a pattern where he starts to gain, or does he stay stuck,” Zogby said.

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Obama had a 14-point advantage over McCain, an Arizona senator, among independents in Thursday’s poll, but previous results have seen him up by as much as 21 points in this key group.

Other national polls have given Obama a double-digit overall lead, fueled by perceptions he would do a better job managing the faltering economy and unhappiness with McCain’s attacks on him over the past week.

Obama, 47, who would be the first black president, is backed by nine of every 10 black voters and solid majorities of Hispanics, Catholics and Jewish voters.

McCain, 72, a former Navy pilot and Vietnam war prisoner, leads among whites, but he saw Obama take a 2-point lead among male voters. Obama has an 8-point lead among women voters, who are expected to be important in the race.

Independent Ralph Nader drew 2 percent support in the poll, conducted Saturday through Tuesday, while Libertarian Bob Barr registered 1 percent, both unchanged from Wednesday.

The rolling tracking poll surveyed 1,210 likely voters in the presidential election. In a tracking poll, the most recent day’s results are added while the oldest day’s results are dropped in an effort to track changing momentum.

The U.S. president is determined not by the most votes nationally but by a majority of the Electoral College, which has 538 members allotted to all 50 states and the District of Columbia in proportion to their representation in Congress.

Editing by Mohammad Zargham