Less than two weeks out from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney has erased President Barack Obama’s 16-point advantage among women, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows. And the President, in turn, has largely eliminated Mr. Romney’s edge among men.

Those churning gender dynamics leave the Presidential race still a virtual dead heat, with Romney favoured by 47 per cent of likely voters and Mr. Obama by 45 per cent, a result within the poll’s margin of sampling error, the survey shows.

After a commanding first debate performance and a generally good month, Mr. Romney has gained ground with Americans on a number of important fronts, including their confidence in how he would handle the economy and their impressions of his ability to understand their problems.

At the same time, expectations that Mr. Obama will be re-elected have slipped — half of voters now expect the President to win a second term, down from 55 per cent a month earlier.

For all of the good news for Republicans, however, what matters most in the election endgame is Mr. Romney’s standing in the handful of states whose electoral votes still are up for grabs. And polls in a number of those battleground states still appear to favour Mr. Obama.

As the election nears, Mr. Romney has been playing down social issues and trying to project a more moderate stance on matters such as abortion in an effort to court female voters. The AP-GfK poll, taken Friday through Tuesday, shows Mr. Romney pulling even with Mr. Obama among women at 47-47 after lagging by 16 points a month earlier.

But now his campaign is grappling with the fallout from a comment by a Romney-endorsed Senate candidate in Indiana, who said that when a woman becomes pregnant during a rape “that’s something God intended.”

Mr. Romney quickly distanced himself from the remark by Republican Richard Mourdock. But Mr. Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the incident was “a reminder that a Republican Congress working with a Republican President Mitt Romney would feel that women should not be able to make choices about their own health care.”

A renewed focus on social issues would be an unwelcome development for Mr. Romney — Among female likely voters, 55 per cent say Mr. Obama would make the right decisions on women’s issues, compared with 41 per cent who think Mr. Romney would.

Mr. Romney’s pitch to women has been focused squarely on the economy, making the case that what women want most is to ensure their families and their country are on a solid financial footing. The poll shows that message appears to be taking root.

A month ago, women favoured Mr. Obama over Mr. Romney on the economy 56 per cent to 40 per cent. Now, the split has shifted to 49 per cent for Mr. Romney and 45 per cent for Mr. Obama.

Similarly, Mr. Obama’s lead among women as the candidate who better understands the people’s problems has narrowed considerably, from a 58-36 Obama advantage last month to a 50-43 Obama edge now.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has been working to shore up his support among men, who tend to be more Republican than women. In the 2008 election, men broke 49 per cent for Mr. Obama to 48 per cent for John McCain, even though Mr. Obama got 53 per cent of the vote overall. The President’s job approval ratings among men have tended to fall below his ratings among women throughout his first term.

A month ago, Mr. Romney’s advantage among men was 13 percentage points. Now, it’s down to five points, with most of the shift toward Mr. Obama coming among unmarried men.

There has been a gender gap in every Presidential election since 1980. In 2008, women were 7 percentage points more likely than men to vote for Obama.

Overall, people are significantly more optimistic about the economy and unemployment in the coming year than they have been at any point in AP-GfK polling going back to March 2011, when the poll first started asking those questions. And likely voters are even more optimistic than other adults.

Nearly six in 10 likely voters think the economy will improve in the next year, up from 46 per cent last month. And 42 per cent think the number of unemployed Americans will drop in the next year, up from 32 per cent in September.

The Associated Press-GfK poll was conducted between October 19 and 23 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,186 adults across the United States, including 839 likely voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; for likely voters it is 4.2 points.

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