Poll has Obama and Romney neck and neck

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Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are still in a virtual tie with the US presidential election just weeks away, according to the latest poll.

It was taken before the furore over remarks Mr Romney made in a secretly taped video nearly four months ago, in which he told a group of wealthy donors that nearly half of Americans believe they are victims and entitled to government support.

The new Associated Press-GfK poll shows 47 per cent of likely voters backed Mr Obama, while 46 per cent sided with Mr Romney. Among all adults, Mr Obama is favoured by 52 per cent, with 37 per cent for Mr Romney.

In an interview on the conservative-leaning Fox News, Mr Romney said he did not intend to write off any part of a deeply divided electorate, including the elderly or members of the military, who along with the poor often pay no taxes. But he said “I’m not going to get” votes from people who believe the government’s job is to redistribute wealth.

Mr Romney has neither disowned nor apologised for his remarks. Instead, he has cast his comments as evidence of a fundamental difference with Mr Obama over the economy, adding the US government should not “take from some to give to the others.”

US income tax is designed to be progressive, so those who earn the most theoretically pay the most.

Through programmes as diverse as health care and food stamps, the government collects tax revenue and pays it out in the form of benefits for those who qualify.

“My course for the American economy will encourage private investment and personal freedom,” Mr Romney wrote in an article in USA Today.

Mr Obama addressed the Romney claims in an appearance on the David Letterman talk show.

“One thing I’ve learned as president is that you represent the entire country,” Mr Obama said. As for Mr Romney’s statement about the 47 per cent, he said: “There are not a lot of people out there who think they are victims.”

Meanwhile, an independent group supporting Mr Obama ran the first television advertisement using the leaked video. The Priorities USA Action ad shows clips of Mr Romney’s comments and ends with a narrator saying he will never convince middle-class voters he is on their side.

With early and absentee voting beginning in a number of states, both campaigns hope to lock in votes long before election day. The first of three presidential debates is scheduled for October 3.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted from September 13-17. While Mr Obama has seen a general upswing in voter opinion, the poll shows 61 per cent of likely voters describe the economy as poor. Just over half think the economic outlook has worsened over the last four years and 57 per cent think unemployment will get worse or stay the same over the next four years.

But a growing number of voters think circumstances will get better in the coming year – 48 per cent, up from 41 before the Democratic and Republican national conventions a few weeks ago.

The sluggish economy and lingering high unemployment are by far the overriding issues of the election, and Mr Romney claims that his success as a businessman proves he will succeed in creating jobs in a nation where unemployment is 8.1%.

Mr Obama and the Democrats have depicted Mr Romney as a multimillionaire with some of his wealth invested in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere overseas who is out of touch with the needs of middle class Americans.