Mitt Romney extended his lead Sunday over President Barack Obama in a much-discussed Gallup poll that shows the GOP challenger now leading by 7 points, 52-45, among likely voters.
While most surveys show Obama and Romney locked in a virtual dead heat, Gallup alone finds that the Republican would win by a comfortable margin if the election were held today.
Questions about the gap between Gallup's findings and those of other pollsters is the latest fuss this election season over polling methodology as partisan passions come to a boil in the heated final weeks before the November 6 presidential contest.
With a record of correctly predicting all but three of the 19 presidential races stretching back to 1936, Gallup is one of the most prestigious names in the business and its outlier status has other polling experts scratching their heads, Reuters reported.
On Sunday, Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport said the polling company’s methodology is “extremely solid.”
Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Newport said he disagreed that Gallup’s polling was “way out of line.”
“It’s not unusual, going back to Dr. George Gallup who founded our company…He found heated commentary from either side on polls, and I’ve certainly found it in the six election cycles going back to 1992,” Newport said. “People come at you from either side if they don't like the results.”
“Our methodology is extremely solid. We’re very open about how we do it,” he added. “We’re doing great but it’s not unusual for people to bite back at you who don’t your findings.”
Gallup has never weighted their results by party affiliation, Newport said.
“We do not weight by party at all. We never have and we don’t now," he said. "We think party identification is an attitudinal variable that fluctuates just like who are you going to vote for."
In other polls released Sunday, however, the candidates were in a virtual tie.
A NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had both Romney and Obama at 47 percent among likely voters, marking a comeback for the Republican since a series of missteps including the release of a secretly recorded video in which he suggested almost half of the electorate lives off government handouts.
The squeaky tight nature of the race brings an air of unpredictability to the last, intense round of campaigning and raises the importance of the face-to-face encounter between the pair on Monday night in Boca Raton, Florida.
Romney has been on a roll since soundly thrashing Obama at their first debate in Denver on October 3. The Democrat rebounded with a solid performance two weeks later in Hempstead, New York, but it wasn't enough to vault him back into a sizeable poll lead.
Improving economic conditions, like a drop in the jobless number and signs of recovery in the housing market, have also failed to give the incumbent a safe cushion in the polls ahead of the November 6 election.
Trying to putting a positive spin on the poll numbers, Obama aides said they felt good about their position in some of the battleground states where the election will be decided. Obama has been clinging to a small lead in all-important Ohio, for example, and early voting looks to be favoring the Democrats.
"We feel we're even or ahead in these battleground states. If you look at the early voting that's going on around the country, it's very robust and it's very favorable to us. And we think that's a better indicator than these public polls, which are frankly all over the map," said Obama senior adviser David Axelrod on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The final debate would seem to play more to Obama's strengths since it is focused on foreign policy. Obama gets credit for the U.S. mission that led to the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and for pulling troops out of Iraq.
Romney's campaign has made the weak U.S. economy the central issue and he is not a foreign policy expert although he is now getting regular U.S. intelligence briefings.
The Romney side brought up a New York Times story on Saturday about possible one-on-one talks between the United States and Iran over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, accusing the Obama administration of engaging in national security leaks to the news media.
"I don't know if it will be a big story. Both the White house and the Iranians have said it's not true. It sounds to me that it's another example of a national security leak from the White House, they've done a lot of that," said Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who plays Obama in mock debates to help Romney prepare.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a longtime Obama confidant, said the Obama policy toward Iran has paid off.
"Iran is isolated from the rest of the world. Now that was steady, determined, dogged leadership, setting out a course," he told ABC's "This Week."
Both Obama and Romney were locked in weekend debate preparations sessions - Romney in Delray Beach, and Obama at his Camp David, Maryland, presidential retreat.
Romney emerged briefly to perform the coin toss for a beach football game between senior members of his staff and several reporters who cover his campaign.
Huddling with his staff, Romney joked to them: "Figure out which of their players are the best and take them out early... Don't worry about injuries, guys. This counts. Win!"
The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll said Obama still led Romney 49 percent to 44 percent among registered voters, but that this was down from a seven-point edge the president had among registered voters in late September.
"I like what I see because the trend is in our direction ... that's where you want to be at this point in the campaign," said Portman.
It was the latest poll showing Americans divided between giving Obama more time to fix the economy, or choosing a former business executive who argues he knows best how to create jobs.
A Reuters/Ipsos online poll on Saturday showed Obama with a razor-thin lead, 46 percent to 45 percent. The margin had narrowed from Friday when he had a three-point lead.
After Monday night's debate, Obama travels later in the week to battleground states of Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Virginia and Ohio in a two-day campaigning blitz.
Material from Reuters wire service was used in this story.
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