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NBC/WSJ poll: Presidential contest now tied

As Obama and Romney prepare for the debate on foreign policy Monday night in Florida, new polls emerge showing the candidates are in a 47-47 percent tie among likely voters. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

Heading into Monday's final debate and with just over two weeks until Election Day, President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are now tied nationally, according the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Obama and Romney both get 47 percent among likely voters in the latest edition of the poll, conducted entirely in the aftermath of the second presidential debate last Monday. In the previous national NBC/WSJ poll, which was conducted before debate season began, the president held a narrow, three-point lead over his GOP challenger, 49 percent to 46 percent.

But among the wider pool of all registered voters in this new survey, Obama is ahead of Romney by five points, 49 percent to 44 percent.

Read the full poll (.pdf)

"We definitely have a barn burner," says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart.

White House adviser David Axelrod discusses the latest numbers reflecting a statistical tie in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Hart adds, "The election is close, close, close."

Voters more comfortable with Romney
What appears to have benefited Romney, especially after the first two presidential debates, is that voters are more comfortable with him.

A combined 47 percent of registered voters say they are either optimistic and confident or satisfied and hopeful that Romney would do a good job as president -- up five points since the last NBC/WSJ poll. By comparison, Obama's percentage stands at 50 percent on this question, which is unchanged from the previous survey.

In addition, heading into Monday's foreign-policy debate, Romney trails Obama by just three points (44 percent to 41 percent) on which candidate would be better commander in chief, which is down from the president's eight-point edge on this question last month.

And Romney's favorable/unfavorable rating has slightly improved -- from 41 percent favorable/44 percent unfavorable in the last poll, to 43 percent favorable/44 percent unfavorable now.

Obama's score stands at 49 percent favorable/43 percent unfavorable.

Growing economic optimism
But if voters are becoming more comfortable with Romney, they also are becoming more optimistic about the economy.

A panel of experts visits Meet the Press to discuss foreign policy and the 2012 presidential campaigns.

Forty-five percent believe the economy will improve in the next 12 months. That's up one point from the last poll and a whopping 18 points since July. What's more, 41 percent think the country is headed in the right direction, which is the highest mark on this question since June 2009.

Overall, Obama's approval ratings are unchanged from the last survey -- 49 percent approve of his overall job performance, 46 percent approve of his handling of the economy and 49 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy.

Macro-messaging vs. micro-messaging
Despite this growing economic optimism, however, Romney holds a six-point lead over Obama (46 percent to 40 percent) on which candidate would better deal with the economy. That's up three points (45 percent to 42 percent) since the last poll.

Romney also has the advantage on jobs and unemployment (46 percent to 39 percent) and the federal budget deficit (48 percent to 35 percent).

And by a four-point margin (45 percent to 41 percent), voters think Romney is better prepared to create jobs and improve the economy over the next four years.

But Obama leads on almost all other issue and character-trait questions -- being easy going and likable (57 percent to 25 percent), dealing with issue of concern to women (53 percent to 25 percent), being compassionate enough to understand average people (53 percent to 29 percent), looking out for the middle class (52 percent to 36 percent) and dealing with Medicare (46 percent to 37 percent).

David Gregory analyzes this morning's Meet the Press with a preview of the third and final debate on foreign policy between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

"Romney is dominating the macro-messaging of the economy," Hart says, "and Obama is dominating the micro-messaging" -- on things like women's issues, compassion and likeability.

The demographic breakdown
Taking a look at the key demographic groups in this election, Obama leads among African Americans (92 percent to 5 percent), Latinos (winning about seven in 10 of them), women (52 percent to 41 percent) and voters 18-34 (61 percent to 33 percent).

Romney, meanwhile, has the edge among seniors (60 percent to 35 percent), whites (55 percent to 38 percent) and men (47 percent to 45 percent).

But Romney's gender gap narrows when you move from registered voters to likely voters -- Obama's lead with women shrinks to eight points (51 percent to 43 percent), and Romney's advantage with men grows to 10 points (53 percent to 43 percent).

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Oct. 17-20 among 1,000 registered voters (including 300 cell phone-only respondents) and 816 likely voters. The margin of error is plus-minus 3.1 percentage points for the sample of registered voters and plus-minus 3.43 percentage points for the sample of likely voters.