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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- 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. Boohincus

    The lifelong moderate Willard is now being hoisted on his own petard, ie, his decision to pander to the radical right. He's no more than the lesser of two evils for the crazy radical ball-sackers, er, tea partiers, but he's just an empty vessel for most of the rest of us. Look for his plight to deepen as he gets ever screechier and more vindictive.

    September 11, 2012 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  2. cccccc

    Really? We will see on November the 6......................

    September 11, 2012 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  3. WDinDallas

    Hmmmm, another poll taken in urban Chicago by CNN.

    September 11, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  4. James

    I am tired of people claiming that CNN somehow takes favorites when reporting fact, or generally known as the truth. Fox and MSNBC are clearly partisan, whereas CNN reporters call out both Dems and Rep on their lies/misstatements. The problem for the right is that they are just lying more than the dems this election cycle.

    September 11, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  5. zapper

    These numbers don't mean much with the debates coming up. When the debates are over, then let's look at poll numbers.

    September 11, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  6. Lean6

    Who will win? Put it this way – Mitt Romney's prayer for 9/11 this morning was a little different than most of ours...he prayed for another 9/11 to hit before November.

    September 11, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  7. rogerthat

    Romney has been running for preident since January 2007, neartly 2000 days. And yet with less than 60 days to go, we still have no specifics on how he would run his presidency or any specific proposals on issues or policies. Doesn't sound like someone like that should be in the Oval Office.

    September 11, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  8. The REAL Truth...

    CNN has to even ask this question? Duh.. the POTUS hands down! Willard can't even remember his position on anything – it changes daily. The debate will be a slaughter.. Mittens is going to get vaporized!

    September 11, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  9. Cheryl

    If the polls favor Obama, they must be rigged. If people show admiration/affection for the president it must be staged. Stop pouting, Republicans, and face've got an unlikable, secretive candidate who doesn't really offer real alternative plans or inspire people. You should have chosen better. p.s. Obama is gonna wipe the floor with him at the debates

    September 11, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  10. T.j

    They should allow Gary Johnson to participate. Obama and Romney will just be flinging garbage back and forth. Lets see what someone who has actually seen 11.6% increase in job growth has to say and how we can fix this country. Obama/Biden/Romney/Ryan.....cut from the same cloth...

    September 11, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  11. thetruthandnothingbutthetruth

    2 things: romneycare and grover norquist's tax pledge. watchin mittens tapdance around this will be priceless!

    September 11, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  12. sbgirlie

    Romney's biggest challenge in the debates will be maintaining the same position on issues for 90 minutes straight.

    September 11, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  13. Zenger Folkman

    "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." Tinmeh, this is just so much bluster! And Gingrich is smarter than the president? Isn't Gingrich notoriuos for being the guy known as being who a dumb guy thinks is smart?

    September 11, 2012 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  14. Andrew

    CNN's poll doesn't have many independants in it so I'm not sure if I believe it. I think just 37 out of 822.
    Obama does not have a 6 point lead. He is probably tied.

    September 11, 2012 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  15. Sanity

    Read some non-CNN reviews of the CNN poll. You'll get the facts about over-sampling, skewing,... Just more just from CNN for it's idol.

    September 11, 2012 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  16. effCNN

    Another CNN fake poll? The real poll will come in November 12.

    September 11, 2012 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  17. doncville

    CNN polled more Democrats....Obama will pole more Democrats if he gets in office.
    You people are being used. If you support this president then you are either evil or an idiot.
    I personally don't believe the left or Dems are evil.....Do your own homework and complie your own reason.
    Then decide.
    This one, your'e going to have to explain to your won't be pretty. Do you really want to do that?

    September 11, 2012 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  18. DLinLA

    "The Colorado professors have NEVER been wrong,"

    I thought conservatives didn't trust "liberal" proffessors?

    Guess what – there is a first time for EVERYTHING.

    September 11, 2012 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  19. MikeB

    Of course Obama will have the upper hand during the debates. Look who is moderating and will let Obama demagogue.

    September 11, 2012 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  20. Laura

    Romney has no chance in the debate. He still hasn't stated one thing that he will actually do to make things better. Just pointing fingers with no plan for anything. This will be extremely clear during the debates.

    September 11, 2012 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  21. Jackson


    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...


    Ok, Debbie, The Rasmussen Poll, the one conservatives love to point to, not only shows Obama with a 3% lead over Romney, but, the most recent poll, for the first time since January, has Democrats ahead of Republicans in Congressional races.

    So, the conservative leaning polling agency is showing Obama *and* Democrats in Congress with a lead in the polls. Care to comment now, hater?

    Yeah, that shut your bias BS mouth up, didn't it?

    September 11, 2012 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  22. James

    Just remember the propaganda media reported the polls neck and neck between Carter and Reagan. It is interesting to study the makeup of these polls. The bottom line is those conducting them get them to say what they want because they may ask 1,000 people of whom 80% are liberals who they think will win– duh.

    I am looking forward to seeing Obama debate Romney without a teleprompter. This is the candidate who visited all 57 states.

    September 11, 2012 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  23. Skyler

    I think President Obama's job will be easier during the debates. He will just hold steady and calm and be the grownup. Look for Romney to just run to the end of his chain and bark all night. He'll mirror the shrill, hysterical voices of the today's GOP that nobody listens to anymore.

    September 11, 2012 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  24. Independent Thinker

    Our Country is better off than when bush left it..He will win because he's smart, descent president..

    September 11, 2012 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  25. myviewis

    I hear Democrats are in charge which translates into insults, mocking, joking, twisting, spinning to the Republicans and they will insure Obama comes out winning.

    September 11, 2012 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
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