Did Anybody Really Win The Second Debate
A funny thing happened at last night’s second Presidential debate, an argument broke out and there was no debate. It was no secret that Obama was going to come back swinging if he had any chance to stop the bleeding from his horrid performance in the first debate, and everybody knew Romney would be ready for the *new* Obama.
Both proved to be true quickly but calling the proceedings of last night a debate is a disservice to proper debate etiquette. Both candidates were very aggressive, talked over each other frequently and save for a few moments of reasonable discourse turned the proceedings into an old-fashioned street brawl. Many punches were thrown but most missed and discerning any semblance of an outright winner is difficult.
Looking at the toplines of several flash-polls taken shortly after the debate and some anecdotal information doesn’t make the overall winner any clearer, though consensus is Obama did better, but as we all know the *devil is in the details* and that may be where Romney scored his advantages.
CBS had the overall winner nationally as Obama 37% to 30%
CNN had the overall winner nationally as Obama 46% to 39%
PPP conducted a poll in the swing state of Colorado and reported Obama up 48% to 44%
So as expected Obama came out far more aggressively, probably reenergized his base after his lackluster performance in the first debate, and at least might have slowed the momentum Romney was clearly riding for the last week or so. On the surface a success for the President but it’s worth noting his margins are nowhere near what Romney enjoyed after the first debate from the same sources.
However looking at some of the details, and considering this was the last exchange between the candidates on domestic policy, there are some strong takeaways for Governor Romney. Looking specifically at the top issue with undecideds and persuadables, the economy and who would handle it better, Romney won.
CBS, which importantly polled undecided but likely voters, reported Romney with a 65% to 34% edge in who is better suited to handle the economy.
CNN also acknowledged that Romney took command in the areas of domestic policy such as the economy, jobs, the deficit and taxes. “Mitt Romney was seen as better able to handle the economy, taxes, and the budget deficit among the debate audience, but it seems that issues were trumped, or at least blunted, by intangibles, including the expectations game,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. Notably the CNN poll was of registered voters who watched the debate which is statistically far less compelling.
In the PPP poll of Colorado *debate watchers* not likely voters, undecideds or persuadables, Obama got a 40% more favorably viewed number while Romney scored 44%. The less favorably viewed numbers were 36% for Obama and 35% for Romney. Not huge but a statistical win for the Governor in the *favorability* game in that one swing state from a limited sampling, and the *more likely to vote for* numbers were virtually tied at 37% for Obama and 36% for Romney.
Anecdotally several documented focus groups (these small samplings should always be treated cautiously) resulted in more participants leaning toward Romney than Obama, and these are undecided voters which are the true spoils for the victor with less than 3 weeks to Election Day.
Other than a few personal observations which follow, we didn’t see a debate last night rather we witnessed an argument that devolved into a street fight. Obama did stave off what could have been a catastrophe if he had underperformed again and Romney was up to the task of trading punches to maintain his momentum.
We’ll know more over the next several days as polling from the swing states (national numbers are less meaningful now) come in and voters have more thoroughly digested the performance of both candidates.
A Few Closing Thoughts
Obama missed the target when asked by a soon-to-be college graduate about his prospects for finding a job when he pivoted to manufacturing jobs. It seems unlikely that a college graduate is interested in working on an assembly line, not that manufacturing jobs are unimportant, but the answer was amiss.
Romney was strong in the energy portion of the show with his attack on Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline, reductions in drilling on federal lands and higher gas prices. Obama’s rebuttals were confusing and I believe lost on the questioner and other debate watchers.
Obama also made what was a rather bizarre observation at that same time when he opined that gas prices were lower when he took office because the economy was on the brink of collapse. I’m still not sure where he was going with this but I can’t see it resonating clearly or positively with any undecided voters.
Romney handled the differences between his plans and George W. Bush plans quite well and used the question as an opportunity to walk through his five-point plan while jabbing Obama for his failures in each area. Notably Obama’s interruption in this segment was one of his low points on the dial numbers from the undecideds in attendance at the debate.
Obama did do well in pivoting the pay equality issue to a family values discussion and Romney’s “binders full of women” comment launched a social media torrent. We’ll have to see how long this has a shelf life or any meaningful impact.
Romney did do better with the undecideds dial numbers throughout the evening. There were large drops from both men and women almost every time Obama interrupted and went *Joe Biden* on Romney; he had better numbers than Obama on every domestic economic and energy policy; and even showed stronger numbers on immigration and most of the women’s issues discussion.
The bottom line, in my opinion, is Obama avoided a devastating blow to his candidacy and Romney scored enough points to maintain the momentum from the first debate. There are still more persuadables in every swing state than the margin either candidate enjoys right now, and they’re running out of time and reasons to make up their minds.
This race is as close as it’s ever been and the final debate next week may well decide the winner.
I’d suggest you watch!