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Romney narrows likability gap, Obama still leads on health: poll

By Gabriel Debenedetti

(Reuters) - While Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has erased President Barack Obama's overall poll lead, the Democrat remains ahead on some core issues such as healthcare and voters would still rather spend time with Obama than with Romney.

Romney, however, has narrowed the gap on "likability" as well as on how "presidential" he is compared to Obama.

The shifting numbers in a Reuters/Ipsos poll hint at where the two candidates are vulnerable in Tuesday's town hall debate in Hempstead, New York.

Romney's position in the horse race improved after the first debate in Denver on October 3, with the Republican drawing level in national polls. He has also taken a decisive lead on the federal government deficit: Americans now prefer his plan to Obama's by an eight-point margin, whereas Obama led by one in the week before the debate.

Obama now leads Romney by eight points on healthcare, and by nine on Medicare, down from pre-debate levels of 12 and 14, respectively. On one social issue that was not raised in Denver, gay marriage, Obama leads by 19 points, up by two points since before the debate.

Still, Romney's performance in Colorado did help narrow the gap in measures of personality and presentation, weakening what were previously unquestioned Obama leads.

The president's lead over Romney on "likability" was 22 points in polls conducted the week ending with October 14 - down from 28 before the debate - while his advantage on the question, "which candidate would be more fun to meet in person?" fell from 28 to a still-commanding 24 points.

Romney's biggest lead over Obama came when voters were asked which candidate is more a "man of faith": the Mormon Romney led Obama, a Protestant, by 40 percent to 29 percent, with 31 percent responding either "don't know" or "neither."

Obama's failure in Denver to deliver the soaring rhetoric some voters have come to expect from him caused his lead in the category of eloquence to drop by 12 points, to 16.

Perhaps even more painful for the president, Romney gained four points while Obama lost three on the question "which candidate is more presidential?" That narrowed the gap to just nine percentage points.

The data comes from a set of online polls that have been conducted since January. Sample size varies from question to question. Pre-debate numbers are from the week ending September 30, and post-debate numbers are from the week ending October 14.

(The Reuters/Ipsos database is now public and searchable here: tinyurl.com/reuterspoll)

(Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti in New York; Editing by Claudia Parsons and Douglas Royalty)

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