As John noted earlier today, Mitt Romney is ahead of President Obama by two points in the latest Rasmussen survey, not all of which was conducted after the debate. The reason for Romney’s surge is straightforward, but a memo by highly-respected Republican pollster David Winston helps us appreciate the impact of the debate. Winston notes:
The opening 2012 Presidential debate was watched by a remarkable 67.2 million viewers according to Nielsen, and some have estimated that with computers, tablets, and phones that number may well be over 70 million. This was a 28% increase from the first 2008 Presidential debate audience of 52.4 million, and the largest audience since the Carter-Reagan debate which had 80.6 million viewers.
I like any and all comparisons to the 1980 election, especially in this context. In 1980, America wanted to get oust President Carter, but had doubts about Ronald Reagan. These twin sentiments presumably explain why so many of us tuned in. The same sentiments were at work this week, I suspect. Thus, the debate represented a huge opportunity for Romney.
There were two media surveys completed right after the debate, one by CNN of those that had watched the debate, the other by CBS of uncommitted voters (undecided or said they could change their mind) who watched the debate. Both showed by significant margins that voters believed Governor Romney won the debate. In the CBS survey, the margin favored Governor Romney 46-22; in the CNN survey it was 67-25.
There was movement for Governor Romney on issues as well. In the CBS survey, he went from leading President Obama by 15 on the economy, to leading by 21. On the issue of taxes, President Obama had been leading by 12, and after the debate Governor Romney led by 5.
More importantly, both these surveys reflected movement toward Governor Romney. In the CNN survey, 35% said they were more likely to vote for Governor Romney as opposed to 18% for President Obama. In the CBS survey, the ballot test went from favoring President Obama by 1 to a 9 point lead for Governor Romney after the debate (23-22 to 25-34).
So, in both these quantitative studies, there was clear movement toward Governor Romney at a scale greater than for President Obama.
Democracy Corps also conducted a post-debate discussion with 45 swing voters in Colorado. Its results were largely consistent with those of CBS and CNN. Democracy Corps concluded, though, that “this debate did not emerge as the game-changer the Romney campaign needed.”
But Winston is not persuaded:
Most of the data in the focus group doesn’t support this conclusion and was more in line with the two quantitative studies by CBS and CNN which showed clear movement. Their rationale was that no supporter of President Obama in the focus group moved to Governor Romney.
Looking at the numbers it looks like this represented about 14 people (out of 45), a small group to make such a definitive conclusion. This is a quantitative conclusion based on qualitative data from 45 people in Denver preselected to match certain demographic criteria. Focus groups can provide possible theories; they cannot provide quantitative conclusions.
So Democracy Corps was spinning.
Here is Winston’s conclusion:
At this point, the full impact of the debate has yet to be realized. As surveys come out over the weekend we will get a more complete sense of movement. What we do know is Governor Romney was seen as winning the debate with over 70 million people watching, and he significantly improved his standing on the number one issue – jobs and the economy.