CNN Poll: Who will win the presidential debates?
September 11th, 2012
04:00 PM ET
6 years ago

CNN Poll: Who will win the presidential debates?

Washington (CNN) - The presidential debates: They're the next big thing in the race for the White House.

So which candidate will have the upper hand in next month's showdowns?

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Most voters think President Barack Obama will have an advantage in the three debates, according to a new national survey. And a CNN/ORC International poll (PDF) released Tuesday also indicates Obama's approval rating at 51%, a gray area for an incumbent president running for re-election.

Fifty-nine percent of likely voters questioned in the survey say that Obama is more likely to do a better job than Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in the debates, with 34% saying that Romney will beat Obama.

"Then Sen. Obama had the same edge over Sen. John McCain when voters were asked four years ago who would win the 2008 debates," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Going back even further in the history books, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore were all seen as more likely to win their debates."

While only five percent of Democrats think that Romney will have the upper hand in the October showdowns, 18% of Republicans say that Obama will have the advantage.

The debates are scheduled to be held on October 3 in Denver, Colorado, October 16, in Hempstead, New York, and October 22 in Boca Raton, Florida. CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, anchor of "State of the Union," will moderate the October 16 debate. Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, face off on October 11 in Danville, Kentucky.

The CNN poll was conducted Friday through Sunday, entirely after last week's Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. According to the survey, 51% of adults nationwide approve of the job Obama is doing in the White House, with 44% saying they disapprove. The 51% approval is up three points from last week's CNN poll, which was conducted before the Democratic convention.

By a 55%-39% margin, women approve of the job Obama's doing, with men divided (48%-49%).

So how does Obama's approval rating two months before the election compare to the most recent presidents running for a second term in the White House?

Incumbents with an approval rating under 40%, such as Jimmy Carter in 1980 and the elder George Bush in 1992, lost their re-election bids. Incumbents with an approval rating hovering around the 60% mark, such as Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1996, won re-election. Only one incumbent in recent history, George W. Bush in 2004 at 52%, has been in that territory in the middle. Bush narrowly won re-election.

"Remember that a president's approval rating is not necessarily a good indicator of his ultimate share of the vote. For one thing, the approval rating is based on the views of all Americans, but all Americans do not vote," adds Holland. "Also bear in mind that the group of Americans who disapprove of Obama include some liberals who have a negative view of him because he has not been liberal enough. That group may ultimately conclude that Obama is the lesser of two evils and reluctantly vote for him."

The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International, from Sept. 7-9, with 1,022 adults nationwide, including 875 registered voters and 709 likely voters, questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points, with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for likely voters.

CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report

Filed under: 2012 • CNN/ORC poll • Mitt Romney • President Obama
soundoff (250 Responses)
  1. Tom


    Yeah, I guess Obama will get a pass on explaining his false and misleading ads. I'm in Virginia, and I've SEEN them. Obama is no saint in campaigns.

    September 11, 2012 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  2. JBB

    Give it a couple of days and will be down 3% again.

    September 11, 2012 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  3. Snooki has a better chance than Mittens

    Mittens is going to get destroyed. He survived the Repub Debates because he wasn't the dumbest guy there, which doesn't say much. But now that he is going against someone that isn't talking about space mirrors and moon bases, he is going to fold under the pressure.

    September 11, 2012 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    Figures, Obama rides the emotional high and Romney is focused on reality....... Like my friend Donald says, Mr. President your fired! GO MIT.

    September 11, 2012 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    They must be polling 99% Democrats and 1% Republicans because obama is getting horrible ratings from EVERY person I talk to. His policies have failed. He's spending like crazy. Unemployment is way up. He's destroying this country. But, supposedly he has a huge voting base out there. Where? I hope nobody buys into the fearing mongering of the dems. The only time a speaker lied at the DNC was when their lips were moving. They have no platform to run on because their ideas are all failures. Now they're reduced to trying to scare voters and sling mud. Some dem please stand up and tell us HOW ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE THINGS BETTER? This vote all leans on the dopes that will listen to and buy whole-heartedly into the lies and crude that spews from democratic leaders lips.

    September 11, 2012 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  6. zp

    Where are the headlines today on CNN about the White House turning down a meeting with Netenyahu that he just requested? All Pres. Obama has done his entire presidency is campaign. He is not addressing the issues of the nation and our crucial position in the world. We need new leadership.

    September 11, 2012 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |

    Very doubtful on the survey used to come up with these numbers. No way to stay with the great organizer focused on making a socialist society. News flash, life is not fair, you have to work to make a living. Pumping random money in a foolish manner into an economy with nothing to show but a huge debt sounds like the right strategy to continue with for another 4 years!

    September 11, 2012 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  8. Steve

    Obama will use facts and historic data to make his case. Romney will use generalities and ideology. Obama will win for those that base their lives on facts while Romney will win for those that only care about ideology and not facts. Hopefully for America facts will win out over ideology.

    September 11, 2012 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  9. Montel

    You can already see Romney positioning himself for the debates by making several centrist remarks, actually saying he agrees with Obama on some issues, that he will keep some of the good things Obama has done. These are stances that a few weeks ago he was opposed to. This is typical Romney of course. During the debates he will have a hard time because he is trying to please his base, but he has to get more independents to vote for him or he will lose. Its a tough balancing act. We may never know exactly what Romney believes in, If anything.

    September 11, 2012 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  10. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    GTFOOH with that one CNN!!!

    September 11, 2012 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  11. Darryl

    The President will win like he did last time, with sweeping votes from all over the U.S. Mr. Romney can't hold a candel to the POTUS in any position from domestic to foreign affairs. The President has shown leadership, direction, stability, compassion and has done so with a steady hand and a solid fist. His accomplishments have been noticed and appreciated by most of us. He has laid out a future and put the foundation down for a stable economy for our future and security for many years to come. His Presidency will be 1 of the biggest if not the biggest historical movements in our country. He is GREAT !

    September 11, 2012 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  12. Don't Waste Time on NOBAMA

    President really has facts on his side:
    People elected him knowing he never had any experience
    24 million un-employed and under employed
    16 Trillion Debt – 165,000 per family
    Bank bailouts worked better than Auto Bailout – check the facts
    Un-employment is above 15%
    Obama is really a fit for Whitehouse press secretary job, not for the president. He knows only how to deliver speeches and blames others. If he wins fiscal cliff is inevitable and will screw the country big time. Less leader and more talker. Romney is more leader and less talker.

    September 11, 2012 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  13. Krista

    The Republicans refuse to give details about their plans / policies. The debates are all about details. Romney is going to lose.

    September 11, 2012 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  14. cliff

    I'm sure their Republican Analysts will call this CNN poll bogus to despite the the fact that both Gallup and Rassmussen who lean right, show the exact same results., though Rassmussen claims the bounce is over because their poll showed Obama only up 2 points today. lol. Nevermind over the last 2 weks Rass's numbers have literally been all over the place.

    September 11, 2012 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  15. James

    Romney just doesn't have anything to offer except tax cuts for the rich.

    September 11, 2012 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  16. TJ

    Driving around the Tampa Bay area I sure see a lot more Romney bumper stickers than Obama stickers. In 2008 you'd see Obama bumper stickers everywhere. Not so much this time around. The enthusiasm level for Obama in 2012 is not even close to 2008.

    September 11, 2012 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  17. bombastus

    Having been Gov. of Mass. is going to sink Romney. The health care issue will be a major embarrassment for Romney IF the moderators don't just throw softballs. The so-called liberal media is so sensitive about being accused of being left-leaning, that they sometimes have a tendency to back way off. Just like Fox, they want to be "fair and balanced". If the moderators do their job, Romney bombs on health care and national defense. He'll even bomb on the economy since this tax loop-hole issue is a noose around his neck unless he actually comes clean. The only opening he has is unemployment. The GOP has gone so far to the right that Obama can now occupy the center where the election is usually decided. The media keeps telling us this is a real close election so they can keep us in suspense and watching. It will be an Obama landslide.

    September 11, 2012 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  18. Time bomb

    If Barack dosen't gut Willard in the debate I will be surprised. Remember Santorum punching Willard in the face before the GOP puppet masters told him to back off. Barack has got to call this POS out on everything he's lied about.

    September 11, 2012 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC

    If Pres. Obama can leave 'the professor' at home, then he shouldn't have any problems. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney needs to come up with a concrete plan for the future. Euphemisms can only get you so far. Pres. Obama has had the American Jobs Act sitting on a table in the House for over a year now.

    September 11, 2012 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  20. aworkingAmerican

    It boggles the mind that people are swayed more by a thirty minute speech than by four years of evidence.

    September 11, 2012 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  21. Marshal

    Umm... The President. What sort of silly poll is this?

    September 11, 2012 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  22. Mm

    GOP = The party of hate, fear, and division.

    September 11, 2012 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  23. Robert

    If Obama wins in November, America is doomed.

    September 11, 2012 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  24. Uncle Joe

    The only poll I believe in is the one after all the votes are counted. And even then I have doubts, especially when it comes to election figures from Chicago and numerous wards in Texas; both which has a history of dead people voting. Just ask JFK and LBJ back in 1960 when they stole the election from Nixon. Same can be said for Florida when Gore won that state but the "robes" on the Supreme Court gave the country to "W". And we all know what a mistake that was.

    September 11, 2012 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  25. THAT GUY

    GOOD The teabaggers have failed.....................AHHHHHHHH AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAA

    September 11, 2012 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
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