Raleigh, N.C. — With five weeks until the election, North Carolina remains a fierce battleground for Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, according to a WRAL News poll released Tuesday.
SurveyUSA polled 573 likely voters statewide between Saturday and Monday and found that 49 percent would vote for Obama and 47 percent for Romney if the election were held now. The remaining 4 percent were either undecided or voting for another candidate.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points, meaning the president and the former Massachusetts governor are in a virtual dead heat for North Carolina's 15 electoral votes.
The race has been tight for months. A WRAL News poll in May showed Romney ahead of Obama 45 to 44 percent.
"We've known since 2008 that North Carolina was going to be very close," said David McLennan, a political science professor at William Peace University in Raleigh. "It's really going to be an election about turnout. Can the president get his base voters out? Can Romney get his voters out?"
Still, there have been notable shifts in support among various North Carolina demographic groups in the last five months.
Latino voters are now squarely in Obama's camp, with nearly three-fourths of those surveyed backing the president. In May, Romney held almost a 2-1 lead among North Carolina's growing population of Latino voters.
Obama also picked up support among younger voters, a key segment of his victory in 2008. In May, he led Romney by 48 to 36 percent among voters aged 18 to 34. Now, that gap has widened to 58 to 35 percent.
Meanwhile, Romney has solidified support among older voters. He now leads the president 55 to 42 percent among voters age 50 or older, compared with a 48 to 43 percent lead in May.
A gender gap still exists, but Obama has narrowed his deficit among male voters.
In May, Romney was preferred by male voters by a 51 to 38 percent margin, while Obama was favored by female voters by 50 to 40 percent. Now, Romney's edge among male voters is down to 51 to 44 percent, while Obama's lead among female voters is 53 to 44 percent.
In the latest poll, Romney holds a slight lead among the coveted middle-class voters, 50 to 45 percent among those with annual incomes of $40,000 to $80,000. Meanwhile, the candidates are tied among wealthier voters, while Obama has a 13-point lead among lower-income voters.
The candidates are splitting independent voters – the poll shows Romney with a 45 to 43 percent lead – and 15 percent of Democrats said they won't support the president's re-election. Only 6 percent of Republican voters said they would vote for Obama.
Romney, a Mormon, also captures more than two-thirds of the evangelical Christian vote statewide, according to the poll. McLennan said that's more of a vote against Obama than for Romney.
As in 2008, Democrats hold a sizable edge among early voters, but the GOP is making a concerted effort not to fall too far behind before Election Day. Conservative groups have pushed for absentee votes and plan get-out-the-vote efforts once early voting starts in a couple of weeks.
According to the poll, Obama has a 20-point lead among people who plan to cast early ballots. They accounted for 43 percent of those surveyed. Romney holds a 53 to 41 percent lead among those planning to vote on Election Day – 48 percent of those surveyed – and a 58 to 39 percent lead among the small number of people who will cast absentee ballots.