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

    I pity that Romney fool!

    September 11, 2012 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  2. David

    Four years ago we took a chance, He failed..yet half the people want this muslim raised, muslin named socialist man to continue his change for America??

    September 11, 2012 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  3. Cheryl

    I see a difference in posts from Romney supporters and posts from Obama supporters. Romney supporters' posts contain a lot of CAPS and words like "maroon". It seems more posts from Obama supporters' contain reasoned arguments delivered in a more well-written style. I'm not saying uneducated, overly emotional people shouldn't have a say but who was ever convinced of anything by a screaming rant?

    September 11, 2012 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  4. Tonie

    Today Obama said, and I quote "No single event can ever destroy who we are." I completely disagree, there is one single event that could destroy our country......his re-election.

    September 11, 2012 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  5. DH1979

    What I find ridiculous is that everything every Obama hater hates about Obama (job growth, big spending, universal health care) would still be there under Romney and plenty worse traits, including the inability to make a decision unless the polls show 80% favorability to actually make a decision. Romney's nothing more than a country club whiter, Mormon version of Obama right down to the Health Care... only he has less core conviction, less decision-making, and less empathy towards people like you and I (or those with even less). He's all that PLUS he still believes in going back to the same ideas that started this whole mess in the first place! No thanks! At least we know Obama has a spine and can give the order to pull off a mission to kill. Romney would still be thinking about whether to invade Pakistan and kill Bin Laden today. He'd still be checking polls! As my grandpa used to say about politicians... better to stick with the devil you know. Obama's on the right path to recovery. Let the man finish his mission. They gave him a mess. They refused to help him clean it up and now they want to point the finger back at him. That ain't right. I don't care what side of the fence you're on. That's not right. That's politics and nothing more. The fact that Republicans refused to work in Congress is disgusting. We pay these people how much to help our country and all they wanted to do was think about this election and taking back the white house by pointing the finger back at Obama for the state we're in? No, sir. That ain't right.

    Romney has done nothing to earn our trust. Quite the opposite in fact. Look at that man. His dad was a presidential candidate for chrissakes. He hasn't grown up like any of us. And with a face like his he's never had to work hard to sell much either. Romney looks more like somebody who should be selling your house than a guy making executive decisions. No thanks. I'm voting Obama.

    September 11, 2012 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  6. Val

    Last but not least the Republican Convention was all white people and five blacks, lol on the other hand I think the Democrats represents what America really looks like it was so diverse, at the Democratic Convention it was all kind of people of color there, of all colors thats what makes America, and I am very proud to be a democrat, we never make anyone fill unwelcomed or out of place like the Republicans do.

    September 11, 2012 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |

    It will be interesting to see the serial flip flopper and the POTUS debate. I will have my popcorn and pale ale ready at hand!

    September 11, 2012 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  8. truth hurts

    romney will come prepared and loaded for bear, for both obama and the moderators should they start showing their true democrat colors. i hope romney is getting some debate lessons from gingrich as well. newt is a master at destroying bogus liberal arguments. i'm sure obama and the moderators will try and fluster and harague romney so he should be prepared for that as well. One of the debates should have been moderated by sean hannity if cbs was going to have their democrat shill do one.

    September 11, 2012 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  9. Olaf Big

    That's funny that every republican supporter blames Obama's good poll numbers on CNN liberal bias. Is it remotely possible that majority of Americans actually does think that he makes a better President than Romney would? For the slow among us, remember the poll numbers don't say what you and your buddy think. They say what the majority or respondents thinks.

    September 11, 2012 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  10. Bob

    Nothing is stopping our Dear Leader. Long live the proletariat revolution.

    September 11, 2012 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  11. Cedar Rapids

    Seem to be a lot of people here that are forgetting that Obama has already gone through presidential debates before, so the whole 'without teleprompter' comments are a bit pointless really.

    September 11, 2012 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  12. oliver

    Why is it after every poll that comes out, republicans in these forums cry foul? They over sampled dems! They are not talking to republicans! lol. Its really no wonder the conservative party complains about arithmetic. Polling is extremely accurate to within the sample error, in most cases 2-3%. Just accept that half the country disagrees with you already. This election will be no landslide.

    September 11, 2012 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  13. RudyG

    Depends if there's a teleprompter. Our Divider In Chief will need one, obviously.

    September 11, 2012 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  14. jubei3

    when your angry for one reason, and your embarrased because of it, your arguments are petty and nonsensical. This is what republicans, or many in the house and tea party are in. Just say it out loud, you dont want a black president anymore....Thats fine, but stop the petty arguments about obama's performance as president. He's done things as a democrat president that are democratic, he's done things for republicans that they still do this day wont give him credit for, he's dont things for this country more than many people will ever know. But here we are, they are so angry even resorting to calling the man a beast and evil person...all the while they cradle the head of an outright "anti-christ"? if your going to run in those aisles you better understand the messenger. Just sayin

    September 11, 2012 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  15. merchantsdowneast

    This new CNN/ORC survey, unlike many other analyzed, not only over-samples Democratic voters, but also massively under-samples independent voters, to produce a result more favorable to Barack Obama. This survey’s sample includes 397 registered Republicans and 441 registered Democrats. But the survey included a total of 822 registered voters, leaving only 37 independent voters at most. The survey clearly under-sampled independent and Republican voters.
    Among the Democrats survey, 97 percent favored Obama while three percent support Romney. The Republicans surveys chose Romney by a 96 percent to two percent margin. Those margins display a high degree of party loyalty in each party for its candidate, which is plausible in a campaign like this one where both sides are focusing heavily on boosting turnout among their base. Independents, who are massively under-sampled in this survey, support Romney by a 54 percent to 40 percent margin.

    September 11, 2012 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  16. jo jo

    Despite all the lies of keeping them honest, gut check and fact check that the media allows Romeny to spin, he's continues to fall behind. Evil always kills itself. Just like Romney said self-elimination. The country does not plan to hire Romeney for the next four years. he he!

    September 11, 2012 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  17. Marty, FL

    Pres. Obama can be more comfortable debating with a strong position for the majority in the middle class.

    Pants-on-fire Romney will not be able to get away with his numerous lies and flip-flops in the debates.

    Obama/Biden 2012, truth matters

    September 11, 2012 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  18. TomGI

    The idea that a republican would be a better choice for president is plausible but not this republican choice. And not the other 2012 republican party candidates, Santorum, Perry, Gingrich, Bachmann, Huntsman, Paul all weren't very acceptable. And not the 2012 republican party. None of it is on point. It's all weak. Let's see if Romney tries to pull off the Reagan debate tactics.

    September 11, 2012 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  19. FactCheck

    With all the flipping and flopping that Romney is doing, I don't think the President will even have to show up. Heck, let Mitt argue both sides of every issue, maybe even bring out Clint to argue with random pieces of furniture.

    September 11, 2012 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  20. Adam

    They conveniently don't show the Democrat/Republican/Independent breakdown. BUT if you look at the breakdown of who approves:

    D – 91%
    R – 6%
    I – 44%

    If you took EQUAL numbers of the three (33% D, R and I), you would get a 47% approval rating. So, to get to the absurd 51% approval rating, you have to over sample Democrats by AT LEAST 4%. This is a junk poll.

    September 11, 2012 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  21. FactCheck

    I am so thrilled that Obama will be the president for the next 4 years. I will get my foodstamps and welfare for 4 more years.

    I am so thrilled that Mitt has a shot because we will all have jobs
    – signed, the population of China.

    September 11, 2012 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  22. Oh boy

    Marie, get back in your cave, Fox news is on...

    September 11, 2012 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  23. PTNY

    No doubt Obama's approval is up! Have you heard Romney or Ryan the past couple of days? Those two have been given a script to follow and if one goes off and they both do, the Tea Party corrects with their own vision within 2 hours.

    No thank you!

    September 11, 2012 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  24. bgg1175

    This Country isnt the same country Reagan and Clinton inherited. Politicians allowed too many jobs to leave the country. That cant be fixed without a reversal and a reversal isnt happening. America may never again be an Economic Superpower. Its only a matter of time before we finally fall into a real depression.

    September 11, 2012 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  25. FactCheck

    What did Obama do in the last three days to bump up his approval?
    Simple, he let Romney do all the talking. Once Mitt opened his mouth about his stance on healthcare and Afghanistan, his goose was cooked (to use his own words).

    September 11, 2012 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
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