STORRS, Conn. – Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has a clear advantage in the presidential race, and with a small number of undecided voters left to convince, turnout will be more critical than ever in pivotal states, according to a Thursday release by The University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant Poll.

Obama has a slim lead with support from 46 percent of voters, compared to the former Massachusetts governor’s 43 percent, the poll found. Just 8 percent of likely voters say they haven’t made up their minds. The findings suggest turnout will be critical in states like Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Colorado.

“One of the most interesting things about this race is that while it’s close, most voters expect Obama to win,” says UConn poll director Jennifer Necci Dineen, a faculty member in the university’s Department of Public Policy.

Fifty-two percent say Obama will win, while just 27 percent are confident that Romney will prevail. That perception can actually shape turnout, Dineen says.

“That’s the X factor for Obama right now,” she says. “If Democrats can convince voters that Obama’s re-election is inevitable, Republicans who are less enthusiastic about Romney are more likely to stay home on Election Day.”

Obama also significantly outperforms Romney on a number of questions about the candidates’ respective characteristics. By double-digit or near double-digit margins, voters find Obama more trustworthy, better for women and better for the middle class.

While the margin is smaller between the candidates, when asked about which candidate is running a more negative campaign, 37 percent of voters say Romney is running a more negative campaign, compared to 33 percent who say the same of Obama.

When it comes to the candidates’ running mates, voters are nearly as divided as they are about the top of the ticket. By a slim margin, voters say U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan would make a better president than Vice President Joe Biden, and more than half say the choice of a vice presidential running mate affects their overall vote a great deal.

The poll also found that Obama gets virtually no lift in the election from one of his administration’s signature accomplishments: the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Eighty percent of voters say the terrorist mastermind’s death plays no role in their Election Day decision-making.

But voters give a strong boost to the notion that the federal government should be doing more to aid economic recovery. Sixty-four percent say national leaders should help create jobs, while 29 percent say the market should be left to recover on its own.

“That could be a problem for the Romney campaign, especially if he’s seen as not offering enough in the way of specific policy proposals on the economy,” Dineen says.

The findings are based on The University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant Poll. It includes a sample of 1,186 randomly selected likely voters nationwide who were interviewed by landline and cellular telephone between Sept. 11 and Sept. 18, 2012. The survey’s margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points.

The data have been weighted by the number of adults in a household and the number of telephone numbers, land and cellular, at which adults in the household can be reached in order to equalize the chances of an individual adult being selected.  The data have also been weighted by the sex, race and level of education of the respondent and the region of Connecticut based on the American Community Survey conducted by the US Census.

The University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant Poll is a joint effort between one of the nation’s top research universities and the oldest continuously published newspaper in America. The poll’s purpose is to provide unbiased opinion research into critical questions affecting both the state of Connecticut and the nation.

Download the data (PDF)