For weeks now — through the Republican and Democratic national conventions and the campaign stops in Colorado that spilled forth from both — Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been telling voters that this election is about differing visions for the country.
Jonathan Green of Denver sees it that way too. The problem is, what he would like to see is not precisely what the candidates see.
"While neither of them are exactly my vision of what the country should be," Green said, "I think I'm closer to Romney than I am to Obama."
Green's response — supporting Romney, but not strongly — is typical of those in the newest Denver Post poll of the presidential race in Colorado: We are a state that is still making up its mind.
Obama and Romney are effectively tied — Obama leads by a single, statistically insignificant percentage point in a poll with a 4-point margin of error. His supporters say Romney hasn't provided a clear alternative.
"Romney said he has all these ideas, but he never talks about them," said Obama supporter Roy True Jr. of Walsenburg. "We can't afford to gamble on what those may or may not be."
Voters under age 50 are more likely to favor Romney, according to the results. Voters over 50 are more likely to favor Obama, the poll found. Both are within the margin of error.
Other polls have found the exact opposite. After the campaigns have spent millions of advertising dollars in the state, 7 percent of respondents told pollsters they are undecided.
And, in follow-up interviews with several poll participants, many of those who have made a choice said they are hardly devoted to their selection.
"This is the first time I have not had my mind made up," said 90-year-old Mary Williams of Denver, who has voted Democratic all her life and ultimately selected Obama in the poll. "It seems like both of them are out for blood in this election."
"While Romney was not my first Republican choice," said Fort Morgan resident Glenda Kehm, "I believe he knows what he is doing and will lead America in the way America needs to be led."
Only when digging deeper into the results do distinctions emerge.
Including third-party candidates, Romney leads among men, 47 percent to 42 percent. Obama leads among women, 48 percent to 42 percent. Voters in the lowest income bracket surveyed — less than $40,000 a year — and in the highest income bracket surveyed — more than $80,000 — support Obama. Voters in the middle bracket pick Romney.
Romney is more popular among gun owners, abortion opponents, military families and white voters. Obama leads among voters with college degrees or only high school diplomas, among Latino voters and among voters who support abortion access.
When asked who is the best candidate to fix the economy, voters in the poll chose Romney, 47 percent to 44 percent.
"If we're not all bankrupt, then we can concentrate on those other issues," said Golden resident Kirk Hamm, who disagrees with Romney on some issues but supports him on the economy. "But if we are, then who cares?"
When asked which candidate is most in touch with the average working person — something 75 percent of respondents said is very important — voters chose Obama, 51 percent to 40 percent.
That the poll found Colorado to be a state divided on presidential politics is not surprising, said University of Denver political- science professor Seth Masket. Other polls have found a tight race in Colorado. The website Real Clear Politics, which monitors polling results across the country, shows Obama leading by an average of 3 percentage points in polls of Colorado, within the margin of error for most of those polls.
"This is pretty consistent with previous polls we've seen," Masket said of The Post's poll. "It could be going either way at this point."
The poll, conducted for The Post by New Jersey-based SurveyUSA, compiled the results from a sample of 615 likely voters called between Sept. 9 and Wednesday. Voters in the sample were 34 percent Republican, 34 percent Democrat and 30 percent unaffiliated.
That sample makeup — intended to be representative of the election's turnout — posits that Republicans and Democrats will vote in equal numbers in November. That's not what happened in 2008, when Obama carried Colorado by 9 percentage points. That year, about 15,600 more Republicans voted than Democrats.
Conservatives say they doubt Democrats will outvote Republicans this year either.
But Colorado State University political-science professor Kyle Saunders said other polls have used similar sample makeups.
Even if the poll were weighted more toward Republicans, "is it enough to change the results to say it's anything more than a tossup?" Saunders asked. "Probably not."
One thing the poll shows conclusively: Both Obama's and Romney's campaigns have more work to do in the state.
As if on cue, Romney will hold a rally Sunday in Pueblo — a traditionally Democratic-leaning city that nonetheless highlights his support in Colorado outside the metro area. While Obama holds a 49 percent to 39 percent advantage in metro Denver — where he has headlined two rallies in two weeks — Romney leads 53 percent to 34 percent in Colorado Springs and 49 percent to 43 percent in the rest of the state, according to the poll.
At a Romney campaign rally Thursday in Golden, state Attorney General John Suthers said much is still to be decided in the race.
"We have a very independent group of independents," Suthers said. "They can fluctuate pretty quickly."
The Post's poll shows Romney leading — by 2 percentage points — among voters who said they are unaffiliated. But among voters who described their ideology as moderate, Obama leads, 54 percent to 34 percent.
"We've always known that Colorado is going to be close," said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat and an Obama supporter. "I would expect it to be close to the very end."
The very end in Colorado, though, starts Oct. 15, when mail ballots begin going out to the state's 1.6 million permanent mail-in voters. Between now and then will be a mad scramble of TV ads, campaign appearances and one crucial debate at DU.
"Over the next six to eight weeks," said Masket, the DU professor, "is when that (undecided) 7 percent start to fall in with one side or another."
Staff writer Ryan Parker contributed to this report.
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/john_ingold
How this poll was conducted
This SurveyUSA poll was conducted by telephone in the voice of a professional announcer. Respondent households were selected at random, using Random Digit Dialed (RDD) sample provided by Survey Sampling, of Fairfield CT, unless otherwise indicated on the individual poll report. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. All respondents heard the questions asked identically. The number of respondents who answered each question and the margin of sampling error for each question are provided. Where necessary, responses were weighted according to age, gender, ethnic origin, geographical area and number of adults and number of voice telephone lines in the household, so that the sample would reflect the actual demographic proportions in the population, using most recent U.S.Census estimates. In theory, with the stated sample size, one can say with 95% certainty that the results would not vary by more than the stated margin of sampling error, in one direction or the other, had the entire universe of respondents been interviewed with complete accuracy. Fieldwork for this survey was done by SurveyUSA of Clifton, NJ.