The Washington Post

Post-ABC tracking poll: Obama 49 percent, Romney 48 percent

President Obama and Mitt Romney head into the final debate still deadlocked among likely voters nationally: 49 percent side with the Democratic president, 48 percent with the Republican challenger, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

(WATCH: Live streaming video of the debate)

But Romney now rivals Obama when it comes to dealing with international affairs and terrorism, leveling the playing field heading into Monday’s debate on foreign policy. Romney also runs about evenly with the president as voters’ pick who is the better commander-in-chief.

International affairs generally, and handling terrorism specifically, were once Obama strong points against the former Massachusetts governor, but voters now divide about evenly between the two. At the end of September, Obama held an 11 percentage point lead over Romney as the one voters trusted on terrorism -- and killing Osama bin Laden is a mainstay on the Obama campaign trail. But now, 47 percent side with Obama on the issue, 46 percent with Romney.

The new poll also shows far greater parity in a basic test of popularity: the number of voters with favorable impressions of Romney is on par with the number with positive views of Obama (50 to 52 percent). However, the president maintains the edge in “strongly favorable” ratings.

The challenger has improved on several fronts -- and potentially evened the score in key swing states -- the race for the White House remains nearly deadlocked among voters nationally.

Obama still has strong rejoinders. He has campaign high 11-point edge over Romney when it comes to handling taxes, a 12-point lead on Medicare and a 13-point advantage on “women’s issues.” The president has a seven-point edge when it comes to understanding the economic problems people are having, and a nine-point advantage on honesty. He is still widely viewed as doing more to help the middle class than the wealthy, while voters anticipate Romney would tip the balance the other way.

The poll also shows Obama as the perceived winner of second debate -- but by a far slimmer margin than Romney’s thumping in round one. Another tilt toward the president is that -- unlike in 2010 -- as many voters now say the economy is getting better as say it’s still deteriorating.

The see-sawing battle for voters now has Obama with the edge on the enthusiasm front: 64 percent of Obama’s backers say they are “very enthusiastic” about his candidacy, higher than the 58 percent of Romney’s who are that engaged behind his run. Still, Obama's popularity trails 2008 levels: At this time four years ago, 63 percent of likely voters held favorable impressions of then-senator Obama; it's 52 percent now.

A persistent gender gap underlies the topline numbers, and is now as large as it’s been in Post-ABC national polling. Female voters break 56 to 42 percent for the president; men go 54 to 42 percent for Romney. White voters side with Romney by a 15-point margin (56 to 41 percent), while non-whites break heavily for the president, 78 to 19 percent. Among African Americans, the margin is overwhelming: 94 to 2 percent.

In the seven states designated as “toss-ups” by The Washington Post plus Ohio, it’s Romney 52 percent to Obama’s 46. That six-point margin is not a statistically significant edge given the sample size, but a reversal from where things have been, paralleling shifts in state polling over the past few weeks. The overall national horse-race is the same as it was in early September because Obama now hits 60 percent of the vote in solidly or leaning Democratic states. Romney clears 57 percent in solidly or leaning Republican states -- about where he has been.

This is the first release from a new Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll; fresh results available each day through Nov. 5 at 5 p.m.

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