As the candidates make their closing arguments before the election, the race has tightened with Barack Obama now leading John McCain by 47 percent to 44 percent among likely voters, according to a FOX News poll released Thursday.
Last week Obama led by 49-40 percent among likely voters.
Obama has a bit more strength of support going into the final week. Among his backers, 88 percent say they support him "strongly" and 12 percent "only somewhat." For McCain, 78 percent of his voters support him "strongly" and 22 percent "only somewhat."
In addition, 66 percent of Obama's supporters say it is "extremely important" to them that their candidate wins compared to 59 percent of McCain supporters.
The race has tightened in part because of changes in a couple of important swing voting groups. Independents back Obama by 5 percentage points today, down from a 9-point edge last week. Similarly, among white Catholics, Obama held an 11-point edge over McCain last week and today they split 46-46.
"Independent voters have long been regarded as one of the keys to this race and these results may foreshadow a tightening in the battleground states where independents carry disproportionate weight," says Ernie Paicopolos, a principal of Opinion Dynamics Corporation.
Another reason the numbers have tightened is that McCain has also improved his position among his party faithful, and the number of voters identifying themselves as Republicans has seen an up-tick as well. Fully 88 percent of Republicans back McCain, up from 83 percent last week. For Obama, 89 percent of Democrats support him, up slightly from 88 percent.
New voters, those 11 percent who have registered in the last two years, support Obama by 54-38 percent.
Obama also has a 52-43 percent edge over McCain among the more than one of five voters who say they have taken advantage of early voting in their state and already voted.
Opinion Dynamics Corp.conducted the national telephone poll of 900 likely voters for FOX News from October 28 to October 29. The poll has a 3-point error margin. "Likely voters" are registered voters who are considered more likely to vote in the November presidential election.
The economy continues to far outdistance all other issues as the top priority for voters this year, and while Obama maintains an advantage on the economy, McCain has chipped away at those numbers. By an 8-point margin Obama is seen as the candidate who voters trust to handle the economy, down from a 15-point edge.
The Democrat also has the lead on handling health care (+ 11 points) and energy independence (+9 points).
McCain is preferred on handling the war on terrorism (+14 points) and Iraq (+7 points).
More voters trust Obama to handle the issue of taxes (+6 points) even though nearly three times as many think their taxes will go up under an Obama administration (20 percent) as think the same about a McCain administration (7 percent). A 55 percent majority thinks their taxes will go up no matter which candidate wins.
Recently Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden said the next president would be "tested" by an international crisis in the first six months of his presidency. Who do voters think would better respond to that test? McCain has a 52-39 percent advantage over Obama on this measure. Among those important independent voters, McCain holds a similar edge: 53-37 percent.
The candidate quality cited by voters as most important in their vote is "can bring needed change" (32 percent), followed closely by "shares my values" (26 percent). Some 19 percent say having the right experience is the most important quality — about half the number citing change.
Change voters are more likely to back Obama by 79-13 percent, while values voters back McCain by 63-28 percent. Among those citing experience as most important, they support McCain by 85-9 percent.
By 73-19 percent Obama bests McCain among the 10 percent who say "cares about people like me" is their top quality.
Almost all voters — 78 percent — think McCain has the right experience to be president. That includes a 64 percent majority of Democrats. Significantly fewer voters — 49 percent — think Obama has the right experience for the Oval Office (48 percent say he doesn't).
A 53 percent majority thinks Obama can bring the "right kind of change to Washington" while a 52 percent majority says McCain can't.
While 43 percent of voters think Obama's positions on the issues are "too liberal," half say his positions are "about right." The numbers are similar for McCain — 38 percent say he's "too conservative" and 46 percent "about right."
Vice Presidential Candidates
Voters are fairly split on whether they would be comfortable with Joe Biden as vice president — 45 percent would be "extremely" or "very" comfortable and 52 percent would not be comfortable.
For Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, 34 percent would be either "extremely" or "very" comfortable with her as vice president and 64 percent would not.
One of five (20 percent) Democrats would be uncomfortable with Biden as vice president and one of three (33 percent) Republicans would be uncomfortable with Palin.
By an 18-point margin more voters have a positive view of Biden than a negative view (55 percent favorable and 37 percent unfavorable).
Views of Palin are much more mixed: 49 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable.
Click here to view the raw data.