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Obama takes wide lead among those who have already voted: poll data

WASHINGTON--U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are neck and neck in opinion polls, but there is one area in which the incumbent appears to have a big advantage: those who have already cast their ballots.

Obama leads Romney by 59 percent to 31 percent among early voters, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling data compiled in recent weeks.

The sample size of early voters is relatively small, but the Democrat's margin is still well above the poll's credibility interval — a measurement of polls' accuracy — of 10 percentage points.

With the Nov. 6 election just more than three weeks away, 7 percent of those surveyed said they had already voted either in person or by mail.

The online poll is another sign that early voting is likely to play a bigger role this year than in 2008, when roughly one in three voters cast a ballot before Election Day. Voting is already under way in some form in at least 40 states.

Both the Obama and Romney teams are urging supporters to vote as soon as possible so the campaigns can focus their door-knocking and phone-calling operations on those who are still undecided or need more prodding to get to the polls.

Early voting was a big part of Obama's victory over Republican John McCain in 2008, and his campaign aims to repeat its success this year.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll indicates the campaign's efforts appear to be paying off, although its advantage could erode as Election Day approaches.

The Obama campaign says it is leading among early voters in Iowa and Ohio, and trailing by a smaller margin than 2008 in several other swing states. It expects its early voting efforts will help the campaign weather a blitz of negative ads expected to saturate the airwaves in battleground states in the final weeks before Nov. 6.

The Romney campaign says it is leading or even with Obama among early voters in several closely fought battleground states, including Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire. The campaign says it has seen a spike in volunteering and voter enthusiasm among Republicans since Romney's strong debate performance against Obama on Oct. 3.

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