Massive outreach efforts by the Obama and Romney campaigns — essential in a neck-and-neck contest like this one — are shaking things up in critical swing states, according to the latest release from the Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll.

Over the past month, the dueling presidential operations have each contacted about 20 percent of all likely voters nationally. In the eight most heavily targeted states — the seven Washington Post “toss-up” states plus Ohio — voter contacts are sharply higher, with the Romney campaign appearing to close the gap in this important area as the election nears.

Overall, the national contest has tipped back to 49 percent for Republican Mitt Romney and 48 percent for President Obama. This is not a significant shift from yesterday’s 50 to 47 percent edge for Romney, and a return to the numbers from the previous two days.

Nearly four in 10 voters, 37 percent, in the eight swing states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin — say they have personally been asked for their support by a representative of the Obama campaign, either by phone, in-person or online in the past month. About as many, 35 percent, say they have heard from Romney’s side. Two weeks ago, more voters in this collection of states said they had recently heard from Obama than Romney.

Looking just at reported contacts in the past week, the campaigns are equally matched: 28 percent of all likely voters in swing states say they’ve heard from the Romney campaign, and 27 percent say so of Obama’s.

Campaign contacts are highly correlated with voter preferences. All told, about two-thirds of those who have been contacted by the Obama side support the president’s bid for reelection, and a similar proportion of those who have heard from Romney back his candidacy.

Whether the campaign contacts are persuasive or they are simply good at targeting voters likely to affiliate with their candidate is unclear, but the possible effects on turnout are hugely important.

In the swing states, voters who report any contact from the Obama campaign break for the president 68 to 30 percent; those who have not heard from his side shift to 63 to 34 percent against him.

The numbers run in the opposite direction looking at Romney contacts. The Republican is up 59 to 40 percent in these eight states among likely voters contacted by his campaign. It’s a basically even divide among voters not contacted by a GOP representative.

A major focus for both sides has been to encourage their supporters to vote early — and campaign contacts make a difference here as well. Among those in swing states who have been contacted by one or both sides, fully 44 percent of likely voters say they have already cast ballots (15 percent) or say they plan to do so before Nov. 6 (29 percent). A total of 31 percent of those who have yet to hear from one of the campaigns have voted or plan to vote early.

As the two sides scramble for every vote in swing states, the national electorate is consistently about evenly divided. The underpinnings of the the national vote are also stable from yesterday.

Romney continues to hold the advantage when it comes to handling the economy, benefit from a campaign-high 60 percent support from white voters and has a bulging, 20-point advantage among political independents. Obama counters with 82 percent support from non-whites, and is buoyed because the electorate is four percentage points more Democratic than Republican. (The gap between the party’s is an even more slender two percentage points when looking at the party “leanings” of independents and other non-partisans.)

The Post-ABC tracking poll is a series of consecutive one-night “waves” of interviews reported as a rolling, multi-night average. The new results are for interviews conducted Oct. 22-25, among a random sample of 1,382 likely voters. Three of the four nights reported here include interviews conducted entirely after Monday’s debate in Boca Raton.
Results for this sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. Question wording, results and methodology available here.

There is a varying release schedule for Post-ABC tracking over the weekend, starting at noon on Friday. Standard 5 p.m. release will resume on Monday, Oct. 29.