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. Jake

    Guys, I think America has gotten wise to the Mitt. They know his whole game is more for the rich and corporations. They see his obvious dishonesty when he refuses to release his taxes because they know he's hiding stuff. And the plan is the same, more for those that have the most, less for those that have the least.

    This is not a man for America. He should just take his money and go play with it in the Caymans.

    September 11, 2012 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  2. Ruckuz

    "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".

    This has got to be the funniest thing that I've heard today. Romney has a firm grasp on the issues? Lol. That's a good one. Lol. Timmeh, you just made my day. Lol

    September 11, 2012 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  3. Liz in Seattle

    Having high expectations can be a disadvantage for a candidate. Recall, if you will, the 2000 debates. Everyone was expecting Al Gore to mop the floor with George Bush, and then all Bush had to do to impress everybody was put cogent-sounding sentences together and not completely fall apart at the podium. Remember him responding to a direct accusation about his policies by calling AL Gore's facts "fuzzy math"? But fuzzy math was more thanaudiences thought he'd be able to muster so Bush ended up coming out ahead in that debate precisely because the expectations of him were so dismally low.

    September 11, 2012 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  4. Blah Blah

    Why does it matter what a poll like this says or what the predicted electoral vote distribution is? All Americans should go out and vote for the candidate they feel best suited for the job. Whoever wins, wins. No use in speculating about it.

    September 11, 2012 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  5. Jim

    Why is CNN not covering Obamba rejecting PM of Israel's request to meet even with him offering to travel to Washington given the issues in the middle east and instead saying his schedule is too busy due to campaign meetings he has at fund raisers? This is our president??? Pathetic!!!

    September 11, 2012 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  6. Jake

    Intelligence doesn't really matter in this election. Americans are more driven by emotion. O has been successful at dividng the country...to him it's like a football game. He only wants to appease his base. $3B for "Cash for Clunkers" destroyed 700,000 used cars which could have been used for those with low incomes. But he kept the unions happy. The effort or attempt to do something is more imporant than the actual success. Tax the rich works for one year. Why doesn't O modify the tax system? It doesn't have the emotional content. Think about it. Americans are being taken for a ride and $16Trillion of national debt will be $20Trillion within 2 years and $25T within 5 years. I think that Romney's personality is deficient but Romney's experience and intelligence is far superior. But, brain dead Americans they want to hear O's happy talk not the truth. It's over. The financial collapse is inevitable.

    September 11, 2012 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  7. Jim

    Why is CNN not covering Obamba rejecting PM of Israel's request to meet even with him offering to travel to Washington given the issues in the middle east and instead saying his schedule is too busy due to campaign meetings he has at fund raisers? This is our president? Pathetic...

    September 11, 2012 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  8. RLP

    If CNN keeps over- sampleing more and more Democrats in there polls he might hit 70% approval

    September 11, 2012 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  9. TheTeacher

    Mitt will step into a phone booth, strip down to the Magic Underpants, and look out Barack!

    September 11, 2012 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    The communist national news is at it again. Lies piled on to more lies, the American people see straight thru their bu!!.

    September 11, 2012 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  11. CoachHouser

    BREAKING NEWS!
    No bias here, it is?

    September 11, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  12. Jim

    Talk about controlling the message and the media! CNN says awaiting moderation when you post something factual, but not positive about Obama such as "Why is CNN not covering Obamba rejecting PM of Israel's request to meet even with him offering to travel to Washington given the issues in the middle east and instead saying his schedule is too busy due to campaign meetings he has at fund raisers? This is our president? Pathetic..."

    September 11, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    "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."

    Nate Silver, who nailed the last election's electoral vote spread and myriad congressional elections in 2008 and 2010 beforehand...and who simply uses the math...has Obama at almost 80% chance of winning, and when you look at the electoral map as it stands right now, it becomes extremely apparent that Mittens has a ridiculously uphill battle to win the election. He has Obama currently at about 314 electoral votes (yes, 44 more than he needs to win). Mittens would have to take multiple states in which Obama has a substantial lead if he wants to turn the electoral votes around in his favor. But hey, you go on with the whacky professors and your bad self...whatever helps you sleep at night.

    September 11, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  14. cnntwistruth

    The communist national news is at it again. Lies piled on to more lies, the American people see straight thru their bu!!.

    September 11, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  15. Marcia Willoughby

    All you really need to know: Romney was governor of Massachusetts from 2000-2004. Today, he is trailing Obama by 21 points in the Massachusetts polls. This is Obama's biggest lead ANYWHERE. These are the people in America who know him best, having lived under his "leadership". And they are working hard to defeat him!!!

    September 11, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  16. Critical Thinking

    Lets see, President Incomplete without teleprompters and will need to possible answer questions that will be rebutted by someone who clearly understands the economic issues facing this country..hmmmmmm. I pick Romney but would pick the empty chair to come in second.

    September 11, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  17. Logan Phillips

    Don't be so sure it will be a slam dunk. True Obama is a much better speaker, but Romney's greatest strength is as a debater. Obama is excellent too of course, so I could see this going down either way. Anyway, its worth noting that Romney has been preparing for the debate for months, and has all his chips on it as the way to turn around the election. Either way, it should be a lot of fun for political junkies like me to follow.

    September 11, 2012 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  18. LM

    I have listened to both Romney and Ryan "shooting themselves in the foot" by talking in circles for the past week. I suspect President Obama will wipe the floor with Romney in the debates.

    September 11, 2012 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  19. Mark in Omaha

    Not sure why the lemmings...err, Conservatives can't see through Romney/Ryan's blatant lies. These clowns will say anything to get elected.

    September 11, 2012 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  20. Paul

    It's time for new managment. Four years of stagnation is enough. Let’s get our country on the correct track.

    September 11, 2012 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  21. White knight

    This poll is rigged .high unemployment rate,
    high foreclosure rate,millions in food stamped
    and you called that changed .Americans are not stupid ,you dems cannot rigged this polls.
    Let's see who wins in nov.4 years is enough.

    September 11, 2012 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  22. zp

    To shed light on the issue – see the movie "2016."

    September 11, 2012 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  23. Ben

    Americans wanted to see a president get tough with Israel. He'll win on this issue alone.

    September 11, 2012 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  24. Patriot Awesome

    Romney barely held his own during the Republican primaries and he was debating idiots and/or lunatics. He's going to get crushed by Obama. He's also flip flopped and pandered to his crazy base so much, that he won't be able to keep his answers straight.

    Now the Biden Vs. Ryan debate should be good, especially since Biden won't have to hold back this time around and Ryan at least isn't a dummy.

    September 11, 2012 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  25. Talking_Facts

    LOL..yeah I love the high unemployement rate, that more people are on welfare then before, less college graduates...yeah Obama is doing a fine job. Oh wait I know but it wasn't his fault. Yeah you are right it wasn;t his fault but it he hasn;t really done anything to help us out of it!

    September 11, 2012 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
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