Before Hurricane Sandy, Obama by One

October 31, 2012, 11:30 AM GMT+0

(Week of 10/26/2012) As Hurricane — and then winter storm — Sandy began its devastating march through the North Atlantic states, the presidential election seemed stalled: in an Economist/YouGov Poll completed just as the storm began, President Obama held a statistically non-significant one-point lead over his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, just about where the race has stood for weeks.

48% of likely voters said they would vote or were leaning towards voting to re-elect the President; 47% said they supported Romney. The President wasn’t helped much by his apparent victory in the third and final presidential debate (47% of registered voters said he won the debate; 30% gave the nod to Romney).

In fact, with one week to go, not only is the race close, but Romney is narrowing the President’s advantage when it comes to the perception of electability, something that has been slipping since the President’s poor performance in the first debate. This week, the difference is just seven points: 45% of registered voters believe the President will be re-elected on November 6; but 38% think Romney will win, a narrowing of 19 points on the margin since the first debate.

The President suffers from an enthusiasm gap; just 42% of his voters say they are extremely enthusiastic about casting a ballot this year; 58% of Romney’s voters feel that way. However, many Romney voters may be more enthusiastic about defeating the President than they are about supporting Romney. 52% say they are mainly casting a ballot against the President.

Romney voters also continue to be more attentive to the campaign: 79% say they are following election news very closely, compared with 61% of Obama supporters.

With only one week to go, the patterns of support for each candidate remain stable. More than nine in ten Democrats support the President; more than nine in ten Republicans favor Romney. Independents are closely divided, 47% for Romney, 42% for Obama. More than one in ten independents remain uncommitted to either man. There is an age divide (Romney has a large lead with voters 65 and older), and a very large gender gap. Men favor Romney by 14 points; women support the President by the same margin.

With both campaigns resisting political activity as the storm cleanup begins, there may be room for movement as voters react to the candidates’ responses to Hurricane Sandy. Both candidates receive low scores on some critical measure. Just 37% of registered voters describe the President as "strong." Only 34% call him "effective." Similarly low percentages would use those words to describe Mitt Romney.

But the President continues to have one advantage over Romney which could help him as voters evaluate the response to Sandy. While the difference is small, the balance among registered voters favors the President when it comes to the question of whether each candidates "cares about people like me." A majority of registered voters say the President does, a majority say Romney does not.