CNN Poll: Who will win the presidential debates?
September 11th, 2012
04:00 PM ET
2 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. filthburger

    Can't hardly wait for the debates. lets put this thing to rest.

    September 11, 2012 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  2. LMAO58

    If people listen, really listen in this debates... put emotions aside and just THINK about what happening to the U.S.... then there is only one choice and that is ROMNEY/RYAN 2012. Obama had his chance for greatness and he failed. He needs to quit blaming everyone else and step aside. It is the right thing to do. He has done enough damage.

    September 11, 2012 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  3. tendofreak

    Problem with a debate is that Obama will not be able to READ a teleprompter. When he talks..he and Biden are step-brothers in that they both tend to say completely stupid utterances! Romney will win easily and show the country what a d+a the current President is.

    September 11, 2012 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  4. Grounded on Jane Street!

    Romney is an empty suit and a liar. Most Americans can see right through his BS. Even republicans are less than enthusiastic about him.

    September 11, 2012 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  5. Fred

    Ask Obama how did you get this country in a $6 trillion debt?

    September 11, 2012 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  6. SaintM

    Mitt Romney will be exposed, and President Obama will hand him an embarassing election loss even bigger than the one he handed McCain/Palin. Mitt is no match for President Obama in any debate.

    September 11, 2012 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  7. filthburger

    I just hope one moderator asks "Mittens, why won't you show your tax returns? Your dad did. As a matter of fact, your dad wrote the standard on showing tax returns as a candidate."

    September 11, 2012 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  8. mike58

    Obama's rating had no where to go but up
    plus this is a CNN poll so it's a 10 to 1 DEMs poll that's why polls suck you can make the numbers come out anyway you want. It's a joke

    September 11, 2012 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  9. Jack Be Humble

    I have to disagree, Willard. It will be close. There are a handful of independents in seven "swing" states who have any power over the outcome. They will be bombarded over the next 56 days with a billion dollars in advertising. Anything that could embarrass either side will be brought to everyone in the world's attention. No matter what happens, I hope both sides can behave once the elections are over and unite behind the President from 2013-2017.

    September 11, 2012 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  10. Reggiedw

    Of couse Obama will have the advantage because he will know in advance what the questions will be and he will prepare his answers. If I was Romney, I would not have agreed on any debates because they are being held by Obama supporters. BIAS DEBATES!!!!!!!!

    September 11, 2012 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  11. TJ

    3 points is breaking news??? You guys are getting desparate for this guy's re-election.

    September 11, 2012 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  12. tendofreak

    Problem with a debate is that Obama will not be able to READ a teleprompter. When he talks..he and Biden are step-brothers in that they both tend to say completely stupid utterances! Romney will win easily and show the country what a mess the current President is.

    September 11, 2012 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  13. Chester

    IN the debates I feel that the President will win hands down too. Mitt keeps changing his mind all the time. Once the questions come out and you back is again the wall, we will see who knows what they are talking about that the facts will come out. Man the Joe and Paul debates will be the best one. I am making sure that I have a good seat in the house for that. This is going to be like putting a pitt again a cat. LOL.

    September 11, 2012 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  14. billy davis

    FoxNews is outraged that their 4 year long quest to paint President Obama as an outsider that hates America, is a Mus lim, wants to ki ll grandma and eat their young hasn't worked.
    Obama 2012

    September 11, 2012 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  15. Debby

    Romney will win the debates when it comes to the economy and thats what will be talked about most..

    September 11, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  16. Paul

    Obama better come with details and just destroy Romney on the spot Clinton style with facts.

    September 11, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  17. "When you walk through the door of opportunity, you do not close it, you reach behind you and help someone else" Michelle O!

    Of course, President O will win, he deals in facts as the convention proved.

    Robme will come across as a trapped animal, and he will wish he had knawed off his own leg to escape!

    You cannot ignore "specifics" in a debate and ever hope to win.

    September 11, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  18. Timmeh

    Let's see, Obama can't think on his feet or without a prompter or script. Romney has a firm grasp on the issues and has come outs as a wi net over people much smarter than Obama, such as Gingrich. Obama's been schooled by Ryan, on video. I'llwager Romney mops the floor with Obama.

    September 11, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  19. sean

    The two party system is rigged. It's coke and pepsi, basically the same thing no matter which you choose.

    September 11, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  20. Maggie

    Gov. Romney not only can't get his facts straight but he can't answer a straight question with a straight answer to save his soul. He has no plans, rarely mentions the troops and no matter what he or Mrs. Romney say they really don't give a fig about the middle class or the poor. They are the backbone of this country and they don't care.

    September 11, 2012 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  21. Amniculi

    Romney lost as soon as he chose Ryan, just as McCain lost as soon as he chose Palin. If you don't have good enough sense to pick a decent running mate why should we think that you have enough sense to be president?

    September 11, 2012 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  22. serdich

    Hooray...OBAMA 2012 down with the CEO president.. hey hey hey...

    September 11, 2012 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  23. JVC

    Romney might be good at debates but he is terrible at Lying..and the President will more than likely call him out on it. I say Obama will win them with class and everyone will see what Romney is really like.

    September 11, 2012 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  24. validpoint

    President Obama will win with facts, and Romney will loose with lies and Etch A Sketch tactics. President Obama, the Commentators leading the debate, and the media should push back and CHALLENGE Romney (call him out) on his lies, etch a sketch, and back peddling comments, and don't let him get away with standing on the debate stage and blatently lying to the American people – Romney and Ryan have told and been caught in so many lies they are no longer believable or credible.

    September 11, 2012 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  25. sss

    No contest, Obama will run circles around Romney..

    September 11, 2012 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
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