CNN Poll: Split decision on debate
October 16th, 2012
11:46 PM ET
10 years ago

CNN Poll: Split decision on debate

Hempstead, New York (CNN) - Give a slight edge to President Barack Obama.

Forty-six percent of voters who watched Tuesday night's presidential debate said that the president won the showdown, according to a CNN/ORC International nationwide poll conducted right after Tuesday night's faceoff here at Hofstra University on New York's Long Island. Thirty-nine percent questioned said Republican nominee Mitt Romney did the better job.

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Obama's seven-point advantage came among a debate audience that was somewhat more Republican than the country as a whole and is within the survey's sampling error.

The president's edge on the question of who won the debate appears to be the result of his much better than expected performance and his advantage on likeability. But the poll also indicates that debate watchers said Romney would do a better job on economic issues. And the two candidates were tied on an important measure - whether the showdown would affect how the debate watchers will vote. Nearly half said the debate did not make them more likely to vote for either candidate, with the other half evenly divided between both men.

Tuesday night's poll only reflects the view of voters who watched the debate, not the views of all Americans. The reactions of all voters across the country to the second presidential debate must wait until polls are conducted in the coming days.

Nearly three quarters of debate watchers felt that Obama performed better than they had expected, with just one in ten saying that the president did worse. Only 37% said that the former Massachusetts governor did a better job in the debate than they had expected, with 28% saying Romney performed worse than they had expected prior to the faceoff, and one in three saying he performed the same as they expected.

According to the survey, Obama had a 47%-41% edge on which candidate was more likeable. But on some key issues, Romney came out on top, including an 18-point lead on the economy.

"Mitt Romney was seen as better able to handle the economy, taxes, and the budget deficit among the debate audience, but it seems that issues were trumped, or at least blunted, by intangibles, including the expectations game," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

By a 49%-35% margin, debate watchers thought that Obama spent more time attacking his opponent. The president was expected to be more forceful in attacking Romney following his lackluster performance in the first presidential debate in Denver two weeks ago.

Other questions showed little daylight between the two candidates among debate watchers on some key characteristics. Romney had a 49%-46% edge on which candidate seemed to be the stronger leader and 45%-43% margin on who answered questions more directly, while Obama had a 44%-40% advantage on which man seemed to care more about the audience members who asked questions.

Debate watchers were divided on whether Romney offered a clear plan for solving the country's problems, with more than six in ten saying the president didn't offer a clear plan.

What will it all mean in November?

On that measure, the debate can best be described as a tie. One-quarter of debate-watchers said the event made them more likely to vote for Obama, and an equal amount said it made them more likely to vote for Romney. Half said it would have no effect on their vote.

The sample of debate-watchers in this poll was 33% Democratic and 33% Republican.

"That indicates that the sample of debate watchers is about eight points more Republican than polls taken among all Americans throughout 2012, so the debate audience was more Republican than the general public," added Holland. "This poll does not and cannot reflect the views of all Americans. It only represents the views of people who watched the debate."

The CNN poll was conducted by ORC, with 457 registered voters who watched the debate questioned by telephone after the end of the debate. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

By a 37%-30% margin, a CBS News poll conducted after the second debate also indicated that Obama won the showdown.

- CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Also on the CNN Political Ticker

- Colbert says he can't tell differences between Romney and Obama

- All tied up ahead of second Obama-Romney showdown

- Obama ad makes case for economic policies

- Romney message this week: 'A clear choice on debt and deficits'

- Largely hidden away, Obama reports debate prep 'going great'

soundoff (1,208 Responses)
  1. jim

    Lord Yabu...Before you try to blame the Obama on Fast and furious you may want to actually research it. It was definitely on his watch, but it was put in place before his time. Do you really think that Presidents set this up?

    October 17, 2012 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  2. headline watcher

    So, if "nearly half" think Obama won, does that mean that more than half think Romney won??? 😉

    All kidding aside, with the polls that close and apparently 15% undecided, I hardly call that a "win."

    October 17, 2012 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  3. wolfpackbob

    Gee, the President lied at least twice last night on Libya and his domestic energy policy. How much fact-checking is on CNN today on both his EPIC lie on the murders in Libya and Candy Crowley's knee-jerk lie to support his lie? Squat. Absolutely squat. It is all about "the small things", like Big Bird and Binders. Very sad.

    October 17, 2012 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  4. jlyt

    In our schools and at home we teach students that character counts: Honesty, fairness, respect, integrity, are but a few of the things we want to engrave in the hearts of our children so that even in tough situations they can make the right choices. President Obama clearly demonstrates these qualities when he treats others as he would like to be treated, and when he does the right thing even when situations are tough.

    October 17, 2012 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  5. Ohioan

    The President won this debate hands down. Its about time some calls Mittens out on all his lying-What a great Moderator! I feel if the moderator helped Mittens everyone would be happy. Bottom line Mittens has not spelled out what he plans to do to help this ecomony or what he can do that the current President can't. For crist sakes can someone tell me what his 5-point plans is because he sure won't explain it. President Obama laid he points out in complete thoughts and he could explain what each point meant for the average middle class citizen. Mittens just stayed on defense the whole time and never spelled out anything.

    October 17, 2012 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  6. Anjin

    Amazing how Obama supporters are whipping this horse to the finish line. 3 short weeks before the curtain falls.

    October 17, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  7. SwollenGoat


    "nearly half" doesn't mean "more than half" on the other side of the argument, genius. There's also "undecided" and "tied" you have to take into consideration.

    While you can apparently form strings of words, you're coherency needs some work.

    October 17, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  8. Lord Yabu

    Jim, The Bush administration's "Fast and Furious" concerned itself with domestic gun problems... Obama's was meant to create a problem and used Mexico and several lives to make it. It was about new gun control legislation. Unfortunately for him and the rest of us...Americans died also. Guilty. Holder & Clinton also.

    October 17, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  9. Jack

    LOL - After CNN instant Scientific (Wolf always like to emphasize Scientific) poll, Wolf announced it was a tie than a few minutes later said the poll sampled 8 more Repubs than Dems. So the CNN poll had it 46 to 37 for Obama while sampling 8 more Repubs than Dems and Wolf/CNN calls it a tie?? Man, CNN (especially Wolf and King) have been pro Romney since this campaign and like Romney, they will spin anything to make Romney look good while trying to make Obama look bad. I think CNN and Fox should just do a JOINT news session to poll their biases together.

    October 17, 2012 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  10. T.P.Chia

    A great nation like America deserves a President who is committed to a more equitable, ethically-oriented and
    prosperous society for all Americans, and who does not victim to shortsighted, one-sided and bullying foreign policies.
    Americans should elect a President on the basis of what kind of future he (or she) believes in and want America and you to have. I think Obama will be re-elected because he and the Democratic Party stand for a less selfish and more
    fair American society.

    October 17, 2012 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  11. pat

    Cnn's selection for a moderator was awful. She did not enforce the rules and regulations of a debate. You knew who she was voting for!!! They all say that Romney is for the rich but Obama stated on the debate that gas prices are high and that good for the economy!!! NOT.... The rich can afford these prices and the oil companies have plenty of money it only hurts the working middle class.. so tell me who is for the rich....

    October 17, 2012 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  12. Neil

    Seriously??? is Romney the most insincere person to ever run for President,...he is trying so hard to be likleable but its actually a little creepy! As someone who cannto vote but sees US president as a major force in global politics and economoy lets hope common senseprevails amongst the electorate in US and Obama gets a second term !

    October 17, 2012 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  13. SwollenGoat


    Yeah, CNN actually tips the boat the other way just to try to appear that they are un-biased so as to not lose their republican readership. If they came out and told it like it is (Obama 46 and Romney at 37), they would face charges of liberal bias. Unfortunately this has the (somewhat) unintended effect of making them look supremely biased for the republicans. I wish they would knock it off, because it does not look good at all.

    Anyone with half a brain knows that this debate was a shellacking by Obama.

    October 17, 2012 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  14. davecu

    One thing is for sure. The American people have NOT WON is this is the best two candidates the two parties can come up with!

    October 17, 2012 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  15. mmc


    On last night's episode of "Bully Beatdown", an out-of-touch millionaire who has declared war on middle-class Americans and believes corporations are people, got his butt smacked down while trying to bully the President of the US and a debate moderator. With no substantive answers to any questions, at once completely dodging specifics on a bogus tax plan and his intent to return women to 1950's oppression, he received a jarring right hook to the face when he stuck his chin out declaring he's for "100%" of Americans; the bleeding from that 47% blow to the jaw still hasn't abated.

    October 17, 2012 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  16. Lord Toronaga

    I agwee wit Lord Yabu. Toeta-ree Cowwect. Sesame Stweet made rrrr in Chinir. rrrr ahhh

    October 17, 2012 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  17. Fred Serbst

    Lets see what the next debate is like. Perhaps we can watch a REAL,OBJECTIVE moderator instead of another member of the national media, Obama reelection Comm. It couldn't have been more subtle, of her defensive remarks of Obama than if you drove a Mack truck across the stage, at that time. She is a prize!

    October 17, 2012 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  18. Observing from A Distance

    Split decision? what are you talking about? are you people wearing blinders and earplugs....Obama cleaned up on Romney better than Ryan did on those pre-washed pots and pans in the soup kitchen....Romney crapped himself in the mall and boy it's getting hard to watch CNN, with everyone trying to be so fair and polite.....Romney doesn't deserve fair and polite...he needs to go back to "Pleasantville" where he was raised with the premise that women are born to serve men...and the only colour is grey......carpet baggers, liars and scoundrels...the gop needs to be dissolved

    October 17, 2012 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  19. JoyRichey

    I am proud of Candy Crowley, it's not because she my favorite person at CNN, I'm glad she was able to be the clear up some of the twisting of words Mitt Romney was trying to do late night. Mitt Romney knows he lying, he's trying his best to win the people that voted for President Barack Obama last year to vote for him this year against the President. Mitt Romney is for his wealthy friends and his self. The middle class people will NOT get a break with Romney, he's just talking words to brain wash people that is not happy with Obama by making things look better to hear. Voting for Romney is like voting for Bush again and if Romney is in office we all will feel it all over again. No more jobs, more people on welfare, people with no health Ins. homeless, hungry, and disgusted. Vote for President Barack Obama in 2012.

    October 17, 2012 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  20. jimbob

    im not the brightess in the world, but it doesn't matter people! both are liers and cheats. They'll do anything and everything to get what they want done. Even as far as to call this Obama care a tax! Since FDR our liberties and Justice have been stripped away to the point of close socialism. the only thing government wants is more of our money and less freedems!

    October 17, 2012 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  21. JamesAD

    Obama clearly won. Virtually every single major poll out there favored Obama in the debate. When CNN isn't favoring conservatives, they are trying to downplay a clear Obama win as "barely better than equal".

    October 17, 2012 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  22. Denise Inzer

    Obama didn't fool me the first time and he sure won't fool me the second time. Neither me or my husband have had a raise in 4 years. Our insurance pays less but costs more. Gas is rediculous and groceries are outrageous. Meanwhile, Obama is giving away free cell phones to those who depend on the government. Please tell me how that is a necessity. If it comes down to food, elec, and gas to get to work over a cell phone, I will have to cancel the phone! Something is seriously wrong with this picture!

    October 17, 2012 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  23. JS

    Anyone who seriously thought that Romney was a serious contender in the ring with the President last night needs brain surgery or some serious medication. The President won by a land slide and the pundits attempting to tell us what we think about what we saw is pathetic. Just accept that the President will be reelected and let's move on to something else.

    October 17, 2012 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  24. ChrisC

    I find two things interesting... the first is just how polarized democrats and republicans are! More so now more then ever...who is really to blame for that? The other thing I noticed the CNN poll came out saying Gov. Romney did 37% better then his first debate and 33% the same as first debate, which by all accounts was a huge positive for him....shouldnt you be able to add those together for a total 70%. I agree win or loose lies need to stop not only with the lies but also the people who lie because the truth hurts.

    October 17, 2012 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  25. alex

    What do you mean "nearly half say Obama won"!!?? I say he won. My wife says he won. The other guy is a creep in a shirt and tie. I am truly frightened at the possibility that the other guy just might win; afterall, there are alot of STUPID people out there. I like and respect Obama. I admire what he did and tried to do. He is a uniquely honorable man.

    October 17, 2012 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
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