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WaPo-ABC track: 49 Romney, 48 Obama, three days running

For the third consecutive day of the Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll, a single — statistically insignificant — percentage point separates the two presidential contenders: 49 percent of likely voters back Republican Mitt Romney, and 48 percent support President Obama.

The parity in the contest shows up elsewhere as well: the two candidates are just two points apart when it comes to dealing with taxes, and they are three points apart on health care policy. The poll’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the sample of 1,278 likely voters.

Just outside the error margin — albeit barely — is Romney’s five-point edge on issue No. 1, solving the nation’s economic troubles. Romney’s advantage here peaked at nine points late last week (52 to 43 percent); now, the split is 50 for the former Massachusetts governor to 45 percent for the president.

Also at a slender five points, Obama ekes out an advantage on understanding people’s economic problems. This had been a point of regular advantage before Romney appeared to neutralize it earlier in the tracking poll. In the new Washington Post Virginia poll, Obama holds a 13-point lead in economic empathy, consistent with a mid-September Post poll in that key battleground state.

Romney and Obama are running 48 to 46 percent on taxes, a turnabout from the first release of the tracking poll when the president held an uncharacteristic 11-point advantage on the subject. Since then, the president has lost seven points and Romney has gained five.

Since August, no more than three points has separated the two on health care policy, despite intense campaigning around signature health reform laws from both Obama and Romney.

On two of these areas — the economy and taxes — Romney has double-digit advantages among political independents who are likely to vote. These advantages parallel Romney's clear edge among independents, one he has held to varying degrees throughout the campaign in Post-ABC data.

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 Wednesday, Oct. 24 through Saturday, Oct. 27. The release time resumes its weekday schedule Monday at 5 p.m.