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Poll: Obama leads in Virginia, Wisconsin; Tight in Colorado

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(CBS News) President Obama holds a narrow lead over Mitt Romney in the key swing states of Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado, according to a new Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times survey.

Mr. Obama leads his GOP opponent 51 percent to 45 percent in Wisconsin, the home state of GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan. The president held a two-point lead in an August 23 Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times survey and nine points in an August 8 survey. Mr. Obama won the state by 14 points in 2008.

In Virginia, Mr. Obama leads Romney 50 percent to 46 percent, matching his four-point lead from August. Mr. Obama took the state by seven points four years ago, making him the first Democrat to carry it since 1964.

In Colorado, the survey found Mr. Obama holds a one-point lead, 48 percent to 47 percent. That's within the survey's three-point margin of error. In the August survey, Romney led the president by five points in Colorado.

The survey found that Mr. Obama has gained some ground on the issue of the economy - where Romney has until now held an advantage.

The Candidates on the Issues: Domestic and Foreign

The president has gained some ground on handling the economy since last month. In August, Romney had an advantage on this issue (including a 10-point lead on it Colorado), but the candidates are now running much closer. In Colorado, 48 percent of voters think Romney will handle the economy better compared to 47 percent for Mr. Obama. In Virginia and Wisconsin, Mr. Obama has a 49-47 percent and 49-46 percent edge respectively on the economy issue.

Amid the protests and violence in the Middle East, likely voters in all three of these battlegrounds see Mr. Obama as the candidate who would best handle an international crisis - 50-43 percent in Colorado, 53-42 percent in Virginia and 53-41 percent in Wisconsin. He also has an advantage over Romney in both Virginia and Wisconsin on national security and terrorism - 51-44 percent in Virginia and 50-43 percent in Wisconsin - and a two-point edge over Romney on the issue in Colorado, 48-46 percent. In last month's Colorado poll, Romney beat the president on the issue of national security, 50 percent to 41 percent.

Candidate Qualities

Mr. Obama continues to win on empathy, and is viewed as more likely to have policies that will favor the middle class. Three in 10 likely voters in Colorado, Virginia, and Wisconsin think Mr. Obama's policies will favor the middle class, while fewer (about one in 10) say the same about Mitt Romney's policies. More than half of voters think Romney's policies would favor the rich.

As he did a month ago, Mr. Obama leads Mitt Romney as the candidate who cares: majorities of voters in each of these three states say Mr. Obama cares about their needs and problems.

Who's Supporting Who?

Colorado

In Colorado, Mr. Obama has caught up with Romney largely by making inroads among men. The President still trails Romney among men by nine points, 52-43 percent, but this is down from 17 points a month ago, and he maintains his lead with women voters.

Mr. Obama still leads among voters 35 and under, 53-43 percent, while Romney leads among voters 65 and over, 52-42 percent. The president is now leading among voters between the ages of 36 and 64, 51-45 percent: a month ago more were supporting Romney.

White voters continue to favor Romney, his support comes largely from those without a college degree. Hispanics - who make up about one in ten likely voters in this poll - favor Mr. Obama by two to one.

Virginia

The gender gap continues in Virginia: Romney leads among men by six points, 51-45 percent - similar to last month. Mr. Obama continues to hold a double-digit lead among women in Virginia, 54-42 percent.

The president leads Romney among younger voters and blacks, while Romney is getting the support of seniors and independents.

Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, Mr. Obama now leads Mitt Romney by six points, 51-45 percent; he enjoys a 13-point lead among women, 55-42 percent.

Mr. Obama does well among Wisconsin's white voters with college degrees, 53-45 percent, but Romney holds a slight edge among those without a degree, 49-46 percent. Mr. Obama is favored among union households (about a quarter of likely voters in this poll) by more than two-to-one.

The president has a 19-point lead among voters 35 and under, 56-37 percent, but he now also leads among voters 65 and over by seven points, 52-45 percent. Previously, the two candidates were running even among Wisconsin's seniors.

Voter Enthusiasm and Strength of Support

Republicans are more enthusiastic than Democrats about voting this year in general - and that enthusiasm has grown since early August. A majority of Republicans in each state say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year; this is true of just about a third of Democrats.

In all three states, nearly three in four of the president's supporters say they strongly favor him. Majorities of Romney's supporters in each state strongly favor their candidate as well, but at least a quarter in each state has reservations about him. Romney voters are more likely than the President's supporters to be casting their ballot because they dislike the other candidate.

Likely voters in Colorado, Virginia, and Wisconsin paid attention to both the Republican and Democratic conventions, with nearly three in four likely voters watching each convention. Those who watched the conventions came away with more positive rather than negative impressions of each candidate.

Favorability

Mr. Obama enjoys net positive ratings in Virginia and Wisconsin (53 percent favorable in Virginia, 52 percent in Wisconsin), while opinions of him are more divided in Colorado (49 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable). Voters in each of the three states are split in their overall impressions of Romney (46 percent favorable in Colorado, 45 percent in Virginia and Wisconsin).

Likely voters in Colorado and Virginia and also divided in their opinions of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, and a quarter haven't heard enough about Ryan to have an opinion. Ryan is better-known in Wisconsin, his home state, and is perceived more favorably by voters there. Opinions of Joe Biden are more negative than positive in Colorado and Wisconsin and split in Virginia.

The President's Record

The president receives his best overall approval rating from Wisconsin likely voters, where 51 percent approve of his job performance. Voters are more divided in Colorado (47 percent approve) and Virginia (49 percent approve).

Voters in each state are more likely now than they were in August to say the president's policies are currently improving the nation's economy.

Still, voters in these battlegrounds are more likely to say the U.S. is worse off compared to four years ago rather than better off.

When asked about their own families, four in 10 say their families are about the same compared to four years ago. In Wisconsin and Colorado more say they are worse off than better off, while Virginia voters are more divided.

For full poll results, see next page.

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This poll was conducted by telephone from Quinnipiac University's interviewing facility September 11-17, 2012. The number of likely voters interviewed in each state is 1,497 in Colorado, 1,474 in Virginia and 1,485 in Wisconsin. In all three states, phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the sample in each state could be plus or minus three percentage points in Colorado, Virginia, and in Wisconsin. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.