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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– View more polls at the CNN Polling Center.

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. sean

    Bill Clinton.

    September 11, 2012 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  2. Amniculi

    What is this "awaiting moderation" BS?

    September 11, 2012 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  3. lolo

    @ Rachel and the rest of you haters, Ann Coulter told you that if you picked Romney the republicans were going to lose. Thanks to Romneyhood lying, hiding money overseas and not showing those tax returns the rest is history. You can vote for Romney if you want to, no problem. Keep on sending him those millions to try and buy the election and keep trying to stop people from voting. The writing is on the wall.

    September 11, 2012 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  4. Dave

    Stick a fork in the GOP. As for 2012, they're done.

    September 11, 2012 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  5. Whatever

    The 34% who said Romney will win the debate should be asked how they define winning.

    September 11, 2012 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  6. Debbie

    Rally? This is breaking news? ... We all know that the White House is trying to coerce polling firms to benefit them, they're even suing Gallup... so, this is just more of CNN propaganda for Obama... pathetic, but true.... poor CNN, nobody watches it anymore... :-(

    September 11, 2012 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  7. Lean6

    What is Mitt Romney gonna do without Ann "the mouthpiece" Romney sitting next to him on the couch? Depends on the moderator. The GOP have masterfully navigated the past 4 years without offering anything of substance because the media allowed them to. I definitely don't expect anything from Mitt Romney in the debate(s), aside from trying to make things dirty. What? Do people think he's just been saving his message all this time, waiting for the debates? Lol.

    September 11, 2012 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  8. Ronda in Houston,TX

    I hope that Romney tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help him God during the Debates.

    September 11, 2012 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  9. Boattown

    There may be a lot of hysteria going for Obama right now......but the will lose its luster on a week or so.

    Regarding the debate,....if he can have Clinton sit in for him on the debate.....otherwise.....he gets exposed.

    Romney is not destined for greatness....but Obama has been a failure at the economy.....and the people know it.

    At the end of the day this.....like all elections is about the pocket book. Obama can say he will make the seas rise and preach all he wants.....but at the end of the day he has failed.

    September 11, 2012 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  10. Independent Voter

    If anything this poll shows how well received the Democratic Convention was. The Democratics emphasized the whole "we" as in one nation concept and it was received very well. People need to remember that while only half of American approves of his job performance, many more still view the President as a more "likable" person. At the RNC, I felt like the party tried TOO HARD to "humanize" Mitt Romney and tried to push that far too much.

    I do have to agree that Obama (at least on paper) has a very distinct advantage over Romney when it comes to the debates. The only way he's going to be able to get a leg up on Obama is if rides the momentum that Paul Ryan should create in his debate against Joe Biden, who i feel is a very weak debater.

    September 11, 2012 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  11. CNN

    I can now see how beneficial it is for CNN to have it's own poll. All polls have Obama in the lead but only CNN's poll gives him this huge margin. And in fact, where CNN touts it's such a big gain from last week, none of the other poll's support that. Last Tuesday it was a tie and before that Obama has kept a +1 lead in most of the polls with some having Mittens in the lead.

    September 11, 2012 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  12. vatoloke

    And they'd go through the roof were we to find out exactly how much of Romney's Trickle Down Economic wealth trickled down to the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, etc...

    September 11, 2012 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    As long as we don't let fact checkers run the campaign, romney should do well in the debates.

    September 11, 2012 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    At the end of Bush's first term, his approval rating was 62.5. Just sayin.

    September 11, 2012 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  15. Brain

    I think people finally realized that Obama actually did do a alot of good in 3.5 years, AND, they had a good look at the alternative(that's Romney), which isn't an attractive option. It's really not a hard choice between the two.

    September 11, 2012 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  16. "When you walk through the door of opportunity, you do not close it, you reach behind you and help someone else" Michelle O!

    Myth better just decide now that "you people" can decide he is winner and "trust him" for details AFTER the election, and skip the debates.

    He thinks that worked on his tax returns.

    September 11, 2012 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  17. j0nx

    Puhleeze his rating rose. Propaganda.

    September 11, 2012 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  18. John

    As long as fact checkers stay out of the way, Romney should do well in the debates.

    September 11, 2012 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  19. jaana

    ummmm.. yeah.. this seems reliable.. what are the respondents "credentials" how many dems and how many reps? that makes a difference you know... if you poll more dems in your sample chances are the results will skew that way and vice versa, without knowing that the results are meaningless no matter what they are and despite CNN posing this as "breaking news" 51% is not a landslide and in 3 more months is not likely to get the job done for their boss..

    September 11, 2012 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  20. LBAM

    OBama is an excellent debator and we will all see ROBMEy flip and flop and at times break out his etch a sketch, get flustered and wanting to bet Obama money,..., like $10 grand. Uhh! I cannot wait for him ROBMEY to make a fool of himself and i hope they fact check EVERYTHING he sayd right then and there..

    September 11, 2012 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  21. LMAO58

    Two University of Colorado professors, one from Boulder and one from Denver, have put together an Electoral College forecast model to predict who will win the 2012 presidential election and the result is bad news for Barack Obama. The model points to a Mitt Romney victory in 2012.

    Ken Bickers from CU-Boulder and Michael Berry from CU-Denver, the two political science professors who devised the prediction model, say that it has correctly forecast every winner of the electoral race since 1980.

    "Based on our forecasting model, it becomes clear that the president is in electoral trouble," Bickers said in a press statement.

    To predict the race's outcome, the model uses economic indicators from all 50 states and it shows 320 electoral votes for Romney and 218 for Obama, according to The Associated Press. The model also suggests that Romney will win every state currently considered a swing state which includes Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Colorado.

    The professors' model shows a very different picture than what current data suggests. Currently, The Huffington Post's Election Dashboard shows Obama with 257 electoral votes to Romney's 191 with only six "tossup" states including: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.

    Berry cautions that just because the model has worked in the past, doesn't mean it will work this time. "As scholars and pundits well know, each election has unique elements that could lead one or more states to behave in ways in a particular election that the model is unable to correctly predict," Berry said in a statement. Some of those factors include the timeframe of the current economic data used in the study (the data used was taken five months before the November election, but Berry and Bickers plan to update it with more current data come September) as well as tight races. States that are very close to a 50-50 split, the authors warn, can fall in an unexpected direction.

    According to current data from The Huffington Post Election Dashboard, there are at least 13 states that are either dead heats or within a handful of percentage points in either direction.

    Currently HuffPost's Pollster, tracking 403 national polls, estimates Obama leading the tight race nationally with 46.3 percent to Romney's 45.2 percent.

    September 11, 2012 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  22. carlsousa

    At the end of Bush's first term, his approval rating was 62.5. Just sayin.

    September 11, 2012 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  23. Brian

    Nobody will win ... in fact the American people will lose as they are getting shafted by being presented with a false choice. Romney didn't win the Republican nomination legitimately, and Obama's destroying America. They both agree on the issues that are the *real* problems in America .... and those issues will not be discussed in the debates. So again I'll say, the American people lose .... it's depressing! We really need another declaration of independence!

    September 11, 2012 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  24. john H.

    @Liberty&JustForAll, Look at what? Our country is bouncing back from one of the wort economic recessions since the great depression. Many now can afford health insurance that they once could not(me) AND pre-existing condition have to be covered. From what I can see we ARE moving forward. The president has my vote unless Romney can somehow promise true national health care like every other developed nation has.

    September 11, 2012 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  25. Independent Voter

    Ummm the end of Bush's first term was a 52% approval rating....Anonymous

    September 11, 2012 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
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