Survey Says

Instant Polls: Romney Wins the Debate

Pundits trashed President Obama’s performance in last night’s debate—and instant polls show that voters agree. Matthew DeLuca breaks down the numbers. Plus, full debate coverage and video.

10.04.12 2:58 PM ET

Here’s an October surprise: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was a knockout in last night’s first presidential debate, according to two instant polls conducted Wednesday night.

It was an evening of defied expectations. A Gallup poll released on Tuesday showed that 57 percent of Americans thought Obama would carry the debate as opposed to 33 percent for Mitt Romney. But the poll, one conducted by CNN and another by CBS News, showed that Romney may have received the shot of electoral epinephrine pundits say he needs to stay competitive as November looms.

Plagued by a series of bad news cycles and facing criticism from members of his own party, the immediate consensus was that the Romney his party had been waiting for stepped to the podium on Wednesday night. Obama, on the other hand, seemed pedantic, dispassionate, and not nearly aggressive enough to rally that increasingly rare creature: the undecided voter.

Will it be enough to carry Romney into a comeback? Might an ineffectual-seeming Obama be enough to make moocher-loathing Mitt seem palatable to independents?

The Daily Beast takes the next-day tally.


The CBS instant poll surveyed 500 uncommitted voters, and 2 to 1 they said that Romney beat Obama on Wednesday, singling out Romney’s performance on economic issues, in which he appeared more assertive than the president and more specific—though details were still scant—than he has on the campaign trail. Forty-six percent of the respondents called Romney the winner, 22 percent gave the night to Obama, and 32 percent called it a tie. Romney also seems to have secured for himself a precious moment of approachability, with 56 percent of those polled saying that Mitt seemed more likable. But 32 percent said that their opinion of the Republican didn’t move at all, and 11 percent said their perception of him worsened.

Mitt won on the economy, which dominated the debate, 60 percent to 39 percent, as well as on the candidates’ exchanges on the deficit, 68 percent to 31 percent. Obama, however, won on the issue of Medicare in the CBS poll, 53 percent to 45 percent.

The margin of error in the CBS instant poll was plus or minus four percentage points.


A CNN/ORC poll, the second of the evening’s flash polls, also showed Mitt Romney walking away from the podium a winner. Sixty-seven percent of those polled handed him the laurels after the Denver match-up, with only a quarter of those polled favoring the president. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed by CNN said that Romney showed the qualities of a strong leader on Wednesday night, while 37 percent determined that Obama came off as the more forceful executive. As in the CBS poll, Romney carried the evening’s discussion of economic issues, showing a twelve-point lead on the divisive topic.

The poll, which surveyed 430 voters who tuned in to the debate, found that the needle barely moved on the favorability of either candidate after their performances. Romney did seem to get a positive response on one of the debate’s final, hurried questions, regarding the role of government in peoples’ lives. Fifty-four percent of respondents said that Romney’s conception of the size and scale of government resonated with their own, while 44 percent favored the viewpoint laid out by Obama.

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The CNN/ORC instant poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.


Over at The New York Times, polling whiz Nate Silver reminds readers that there isn’t a lot of scholarship that shows voters should draw a clear line between gut reactions post-debate and polls taken after voters are given a chance to reflect. While there is plenty of evidence that polls don’t do much to change the way voters ultimately lean, Silver says that there were “strong numbers for Mr. Romney where comparisons to post-debate polls are available.”