Buoyed by the strength of early voting in his favor, President Barack Obama leads Republican challenger Mitt Romney by five points in the pivotal state of Ohio, according to a new TIME poll.
Counting both Ohioans who say they will head to the polls on November 6 and those who have already cast a ballot, Obama holds a 49 percent to 44 percent lead over the former Massachusetts governor in a survey taken Monday and Tuesday night.
The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points. The results echo the latest Ohio numbers from Quinnipiac/CBS News, which showed the president leading Romney, 50 to 45 percent, in the Buckeye State.
Two other national polls released in the last 24 hours, however, show that the presidential race remains a virtual dead heat, with Romney gaining ground in one survey, but losing steam in another.
The Time poll makes clear that there are really two races underway in Ohio. On one hand, the two candidates are locked in a dead heat among Ohioans who have not yet voted, but who say they intend to, with 45 percent of respondents supporting the president and another 45 percent preferring his Republican challenger.
Obama, who appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Wednesday, has clearly received a boost from Ohio’s early voting period, which began on Oct. 2 and runs through November 5. Among respondents who say they have already voted, Obama holds a two-to-one lead over Romney, 60 percent to 30 percent.
When those two groups are combined, the TIME poll reveals, Obama leads by five points overall in Ohio.
“At least for the early vote, the Obama ground game seems to be working,” says Mark Schulman, president of Abt SRBI, which conducted the poll.
Nearly one third of all Ohioans voted early in 2008. The Romney camp will have to maximize supporter turnout on Election Day if it hopes to overcome the gap.
The survey also suggests Obama is riding a wave of optimism in Ohio, where voters appear to separate their worries about the direction of the nation from how they regard the landscape in the Buckeye State. While 54 percent of Ohio voters believe the country is on the wrong track and 41 percent believe the nation is heading in the right direction, 51 percent of Ohio voters believe their state is on the right track while 43 percent disagree.
The TIME survey also showed the gender gap is working in Obama’s favor, with the president winning 56 percent of the women’s vote in Ohio, while Romney is winning only 37 percent of women. By comparison, 51 percent of Ohio men back Romney, while 42 percent of men prefer Obama.
Obama is running strongest among voters under 40, while Romney fares best among voters 65 and older. Romney is ahead of Obama among Ohio independents, winning 53 percent to Obama’s 38 percent.
Both campaigns have camped out extensively in Ohio, a bellwether state crucial to the Electoral College map. Ohio has sided with the winner in 27 of the past 29 presidential election cycles. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.
The poll, conducted for TIME by Abt SRBI, surveyed 783 likely Ohio voters on Oct. 22 and Oct. 23.
Tuesday afternoon’s Washington Post/ABC News poll found the two presidential candidates nearly tied among likely voters, with 49 percent of respondents backing Romney and 48 percent backing the president. The results were flipped from a week prior, when the same poll showed Obama ahead of his challenger by a single point. Both results were within the poll’s margin of error.
Notably, the Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Romney leading the president by 12 points among independents, a high watermark for the Republican with that group.
That survey, conducted between October 19 and 22, polled 1,382 likely voters.
But if the president’s campaign was unnerved by the new numbers from Washington Post/ABC News, it may take heart from Wednesday’s national tracking poll from Gallup, which showed that Romney’s lead has dwindled to 3 points in the wake of Monday’s foreign policy debate.
Romney outpaces the president among likely voters in the Gallup survey, 50 percent to 47 percent, but the gap has closed significantly since last Sunday, when Gallup had the Republican nominee ahead by seven points.
Gallup’s national tracking poll surveys roughly 3,000 likely voters over seven days. Wednesday’s three-point spread is just outside Gallup’s two-point margin of error.
Romney still leads Obama in Florida by narrow margins, according to the latest Real Clear Politics and CNN/ORC polls. The most recent Rasmussen Reports survey shows Romney ahead of Obama by five percentage points in Florida.