WASHINGTON - A poll of three swing states released Wednesday shows Republican challenger Mitt Romney pulling closer to President Barack Obama in Florida and Virginia while continuing to trail in Ohio.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College survey of likely voters taken Sept. 30-Oct. 1 put Obama narrowly ahead in Florida, 47 percent to 46 percent, and in Virginia, 48 percent to 46 percent. Obama led by five points in both states in the Sept. 9-11 NBC/Journal/Marist poll.
In Ohio, without which a Republican candidate has never won the White House, Obama led, 51 percent to 43 percent. He was ahead, 50 percent to 43 percent, in last month's poll.
The results in Florida and Virginia show Romney closing the gap in two states crucial to his White House hopes as the two presidential candidates prepared for their first of three debates Wednesday night.
Romney also reduced Obama's lead in a national NBC/Journal poll released Tuesday. The president led Romney, 49 percent to 46 percent, among likely voters, down from 50 percent to 45 percent in a comparable survey two weeks earlier. Obama's margin increased to five points over Romney - 48 percent to 43 percent - when third-party candidates were included.
A NPR poll released Wednesday gave Obama a seven-point lead, 51 percent to 44 percent, among likely voters nationally. That survey of 800 likely voters was conducted Sept. 26-30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
In the NBC/Journal poll of swing states - those with a history of voting for either major party candidate - Romney gained in Florida and Virginia among likely female voters. In Florida, Obama led among women, 48 percent to 45 percent, down from a 12-point advantage last month. Men backed Romney by one point, 47 percent to 46 percent, after supporting him 49 percent to 45 percent in September.
Women in Virginia backed Obama, 52 percent to 44 percent, down from 54 percent to 40 percent in September. Romney led among men, 48 percent to 45 percent, compared with a 49 percent to 44 percent advantage the previous month.
In Ohio, where Obama retained his lead, he polled 56 percent of female voters compared with 39 percent for Romney. In September, Obama's advantage was 54 percent to 38 percent. Romney led among men, 48 percent to 46 percent, unchanged from a month ago.
At least 50 percent of voters in all three states viewed Obama favorably. In Florida, Romney was viewed favorably by 46 percent and unfavorably by 43 percent. His unfavorable rating was higher than his favorable one in Ohio, 51 percent to 42 percent, and in Virginia, 47 percent to 45 percent.
Obama was preferred on handling the economy, 48 percent to 44 percent, in Ohio. Romney had the advantage in Virginia, 46 percent to 45 percent, and the two candidates were tied in Florida at 45 percent.
Pollsters surveyed by telephone 890 likely voters in Florida with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, 931 likely voters in Ohio with a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points, and 969 likely voters in Virginia with a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
In the national NBC/Journal poll, 43 percent of registered voters said Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and private- equity executive, would do better at creating jobs and improving the economy; 42 percent picked Obama. Among these voters, Obama was viewed favorably by 52 percent and unfavorably by 42 percent; Romney was rated favorably by 41 percent and unfavorably by 44 percent.
Registered voters, by 57 percent to 39 percent, said the economy was recovering; by 44 percent to 13 percent, they said it would improve in the next 12 months; 35 percent said it wouldn't change.
Obama's job performance rating was 49 percent positive and 48 percent negative.
The poll of 832 likely voters was taken Sept. 26-30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. The larger sample of 1,000 registered voters has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
Obama also leads Romney 70 percent to 26 percent among likely Hispanic voters, according to a CNN/ORC International poll published Tuesday.