A new national poll released on the eve of the first presidential debate shows that the race between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney remains close.
The overall head-to-head result among likely voters surveyed for the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll matches the latest CNN Poll of Polls, which is an average of this new poll and six other recent surveys conducted in the past week.
The NBC/WSJ survey found that 49 percent of likely voters support Obama while 46% back Romney. The three-point margin is within the sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
The CNN Poll of Polls also found a three-point difference, advantage Obama, although as an average of multiple polls, it does not have a calculable sampling error.
Three points was the same margin in a CNN/ORC International poll released earlier this week, also showing the slight advantage going to Obama and also within the sampling error.
Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart - who conducted the Tuesday sample with a Republican pollster - said the numbers show Obama "has the better hand."
The two candidates will go head-to-head Wednesday in the first presidential debate in Denver, Colorado.
Only 22 percent of registered voters in the NBC/WSJ polll said this season's debates figure into their selection process as "extremely important," while the largest number - 34 percent - said the debates will be "somewhat important" to their November decision.
Asked about the country's direction, 53 percent said the nation is on the wrong track while 40 percent said it is on the right track, showing only slight movement from an NBC/WSJ poll conducted last month. Approval ratings for Obama as well as opinions on how the president is handling the economy are also nearly unchanged from the mid-September sample.
The economy, which the moderator of Wednesday's debate has said will be the focus of about half the debate, is the primary issue to a plurality of voters: 46 percent considered it the most important issue. Social issues and values followed with 15 percent, while Social Security, health care, deficit, foreign policy and other topics lagged behind.
The NBC/WSJ poll found 45 percent of registered voters feel more negative toward Romney in reaction to clips posted online showing him talking about the "47 percent" of Americans who pay no federal income tax and are dependent on government. The GOP candidate was secretly recorded at a May fund-raiser saying that portion of the population could not be persuaded to vote for him because his message of low taxes would not resonate with them.
Nearly equal numbers - 23 percent and 24 percent - said the comments increased or made little difference in their impression of Romney, according to the survey.
The publicly available survey data did not show how those numbers related to the partisan breakdown of the sample - such as whether the voters who said they were less likely to support Romney were Democrats not initially inclined toward the Republican candidate.
A separate Pew Research Center survey released Monday found 55 percent of voters had a negative reaction and 23 percent had a positive reaction to the video. Among Republicans, 54 percent had a positive reaction, 17 percent a negative reaction, and 29 percent were neutral. Among Democrats, only 5 percent reacted positively while 88 percent reacted negatively and 7 percent were neutral. Independents split 18 percent positive and 55 percent negative, with 27 percent undecided.
The Pew survey was conducted from Sept. 27 to 30 and included 828 registered voters with a sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points. The sampling error is higher among the subgroups.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll included 832 likely voters reached by telephone between Sept. 26 and 30.