CNN Poll: Nearly half of debate watchers say Obama won showdown
October 22nd, 2012
11:24 PM ET
10 years ago

CNN Poll: Nearly half of debate watchers say Obama won showdown

(CNN) - Give the slight edge to President Obama.

Thanks to an aggressive performance and a couple of zingers, a plurality of debate watchers questioned in a national survey say that the president won his final faceoff with Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

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But a CNN/ORC International poll conducted right after Monday night's faceoff here at Lynn University in south Florida also indicates that the debate may be a draw when it comes to whether it will affect the choice of voters who watched the showdown, and Romney held his own with the president on the commander-in-chief test.

And according to the survey, unlike previous debates, there was a big gender gap, with women responding much more favorably to Obama's performance and men giving a small advantage to Romney.

Forty-eight percent of registered voters who watched Monday night's third presidential debate say that Obama won the showdown, with 40% saying Romney did the better job in a debate dedicated to foreign policy. The president's eight-point advantage over the former Massachusetts governor came among a debate audience that was slightly more Republican than the country as a whole and is just within the survey's sampling error.

Nearly six in ten watchers say that Obama did a better job in the debate than they had expected, 15 points higher than the 44% who said that the GOP challenger had a better than expected debate performance.

The president was critical of Romney right out of the gate, saying a few minutes into the debate that "a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al Qaeda. You said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the cold war's been over for 20 years."

And a moment later, he slammed Romney, saying "I know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong."

Obama's aggressive strategy led the debate audience to give him a narrow 51%-46% edge on leadership, but it may have come at the cost of likeability.

"A majority of debate watchers said that President Obama seemed to be the stronger leader," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But on the question of likeability, the two candidates are essentially tied on a trait that has generally been an advantage for Obama. That's probably due to the fact that two-thirds of debate watchers felt that Obama spent more time than Mitt Romney on the attack."

But according to the poll, both candidates were seen by debate watchers as able to handle the responsibilities of commander in chief - an important threshold for Romney since he is not the incumbent. But men and women see the commander in chief question very differently.

Majorities of both genders saw Obama as capable of handling that role, but women were split roughly 50/50 on whether Romney had proven himself on that measure, while men responded well to Romney's performance. Women also saw Obama as the stronger leader; men saw Romney as having the edge on leadership. As a result, women saw Obama as the winner of the debate by 22 points, while a plurality of men saw Romney as the victor on Monday night.

Bottom line: The debate appears to be a draw when it comes to affecting the vote of those who tuned in to the faceoff.

Half of those questioned say that the debate did not affect how they would vote, with 25% saying they are more likely to vote for Romney and 24% saying they are more likely to cast a ballot for Obama.

The sample of debate-watchers in the poll was 34% Democratic and 30% Republican.

"That indicates that the sample of debate watchers is about five 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 448 registered voters who watched the debate questioned by telephone after the end of the October 22nd debate. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

By a 53%-23% margin, a CBS News poll conducted after the third debate of uncommitted voters also indicated that Obama won the showdown, with nearly one in four saying the debate was a tie.

"The second debate, the president clearly won and yet people came out saying that Romney would do a better job handling the economy. In this final debate the president won again, yet the poll clearly suggests that Romney passed the commander in chief test," says CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen, who advised both Democratic and Republican presidents. "What is striking is that neither the second debate, or the third debate seemed to change the overall race, at least in the early hours."

Filed under: 2012 • Mitt Romney • President Obama
soundoff (1,324 Responses)
  1. mike

    " If I don't have things turned around in three years, this will be one-term proposition” – Barack Obama February 2009

    October 23, 2012 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  2. KOBLO

    Yes.... Hope and change. I HOPE there is CHANGE!!

    October 23, 2012 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  3. keeth

    ‎"Syria is Iran's route to the sea." ~ Mitt Romney

    Mitt's knowledge of the outside world is positively Palinesque. Syria and Iran do not share a border. Iran already has a route to the sea. It's called the Persian Gulf.

    October 23, 2012 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  4. Voter

    Sad to see Romney either agree with Obama or disagree but articulate no concrete, viable ideas. In his super-wealthy world this guy is so out of touch with reality.

    He gives advice and tries to convince us what it is to actually work for what you have. It's heart-wrenching to see him try so hard, with such a poor result.

    October 23, 2012 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    "The president's eight-point advantage over the former Massachusetts governor came among a debate audience that was slightly more Republican than the country as a whole and is just within the survey's sampling error." That last part is incorrect; The margin of error for the CNN poll was +or- 4.5 points. Obama BEAT the margin of error by 3.5 points. CNN did the SAME thing in the 2nd Obama-Romney debate.... Obama CLEARLY won the both the 2nd and 3rd debate in CNN"s polls by they keep REFUSING to write that Obama BEAT the margin or error in the past two debates.

    October 23, 2012 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  6. Mike from PA

    Once again we watched the President lie about a multitude of topics, saying anything he could to cover up his mistakes and ineptness. He has not cared about Israel until of recent when it was convenient / necessary. He wants more Union Teachers (gov't employees) which means higher taxes. He makes claim on what he did positive with Foreign Policy & the wars, but he had nothing to do with initiating that, as it was already in motion under Pres Bush. Obama has alienated some of our allies, and made things worse with other countries, ... they do not take him serious. Obama has to be joking that he would make Syria an ally, as Syria is in the hip-pocket of Russia.
    – He showed just how clueless he is of the world .... Make Islamic countries give women equal rights ?/ Really now ... does he know nothing about their cultures and religions, etc that he wants to try and force American ideals down their throats ?? He throws his own people under the bus to protect himself.
    – remember when Obama took office ... he had even less Foreign Policy that what Romney will bring to his start.

    October 23, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  7. ricky

    obama lied on GM, Seqestration, and Afghan troop level deal. I stopped counting after that. His Afghan policy is so good–then why in less than 4 years more deaths than Bush in more than 4 years? Kept us safe???? Ft. Hood and Libya would beg to differ.

    October 23, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  8. Luke,AZ

    President Obama won the debate hands down. Gov Romney is NOT presidential material. By the way Gov Romney, SHOW US A TOTAL OF 10 YEARS WORTH OF TAXES.

    October 23, 2012 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  9. Drew

    Romney is the ultimate sales schlock ... he'll tell one audience what they want to hear, another what they want to hear, still another what they want to hear. I don't think the man actually has a set of core beliefs.

    October 23, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  10. ajk

    Obama might win Florida!!!!

    October 23, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  11. Tom

    Romney is a fake, and you can take that to the bank.

    October 23, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  12. mra1614

    The key word early on in this article is "International" when relating to the poll. Only our nation is voting, so please give us only the "National" poll figures, please!!!! It's insulting and misleading to share international poll figures. But wait, CNN is (very) obviously biased in favor of Democrats.

    October 23, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  13. are the moderators that afraid of ONE mans comments? really?

    you must be kidding....

    my last 5 attempts to post were all awaiting, they are all gone...why is CNN practicing CENSORSHIP?Are you that pro obama that you wont post logical posts that are free of profanity but that clearly expose obama?

    if anyone lied last night, it was obama...

    outsourcing a romney problem? how about obama's own hand appointed jobs czar, ceo of GE jeffrey immelt outsourcing more jobs to china than any ceo or business in the US...

    Israel? clearly obama is lying about his friendship to israel..if you havent seen that over 4 yrs, you're blind. The number of times obama has been outright rude to his "best friend"s democratically elected PM is unacceptable. want me to detail them? I can....His muslim outreach, which is and was a joke, was PREDICATED on putting sand in the relationship of the supposed best ally he has in the middle stupid was that???? come on...obama lies on israel daily, and all for jewish votes...I mean, how pathetic is that??!! jews want his support, not his double talk.

    whose idea was sequestration? gutting the military? it was the white house's brainchild...not congress and not romney.

    where is a bloody budget from obama after 4 yrs??????? congress tabled several thought the first term, all of which were obstructed by obama's democratically held senate....and no counter offer from the white house...oh acrtually there was one, which received ZERO votes even in obama's own call that honest from obama? its just lies so he can claim he was reaching out....what nonsense....

    last night he said he has better relations with allies all over the world? not true at all...look at iran..sanctions there have so many weak cutouts built in PRECISELY because russia and china would not work with obama to stop iran or halt the BUTCHERY in syria....another obama lie...allies like him more? egyptians hate him...israelis dont trust him, poland and the czech republic dont trust him, georgia doesnt trust him, saudi arabia thinks hes naive, you think its normal that ahmedinejad, chavez, castro and putin want obama to win??? I think its extrememly telling.

    shall I go on?

    October 23, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  14. Soundbug

    I think these comment section are rigged. I posted twice and was civil in my post. What gives? Obama won last night.

    October 23, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  15. James

    The debate was clear last night who knew more in foreign policy and who just learned it. Neither candidate spoke of climate change, which is a major issue. We are affected in Idaho by catastrophic fires every season because of warmer temps and beetle kill. For more information of this go to our blog at

    October 23, 2012 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  16. Zack

    Mitt's knowledge of the outside world is positively Palinesque. Syria and Iran do not share a border. Iran already has a route to the sea. It's called the Persian Gulf.

    One major problem that 90% of you idiots don't see is that IT IS the route to the mediterranean they have had a dedicated pipeline running from iran to the syrian coast since the early 60's and it handles 72% of the nations exports of oil. So before you idiots criticize at the least look up some common facts on where that statement came from. Mitt was spot on with his words it doesn't take a genius to know that just takes someone with the common sense to do a little bit of research.

    October 23, 2012 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  17. Laurie

    I'll agree President Obama won the debate last night, he was more precise in his answers dispite his apparent frustration at times. The President definately presented more knowledgeable and detailed responses on foreign affairs and homeland security than did Mr. Romney. My concern with re-electing President Obama with another 4 year term is how much more can the American people take with the declining economy. It's not speculation, it's factual that our economy has plumited severly the last 4 years. I did not expect President Obama to balance the budget, that is a incredible task for anyone, however I never anticipated that under his command the debt would rise an additional 6 trillions. The United States desparetly needs to focus and implement ways to boost the economy, the American people need jobs to feed and support their families, too many are unemployed, have lost their homes, and are living on welfare.
    Only a strong economy will re-establish the United States as a leader in the world and restore the faith and trust of the American public with its government. So although I feel President Obama may have won the debate, he hasn't won my vote, I cannot, we cannot chance his re-election and continue the spiraling downfall of the economy.

    October 23, 2012 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  18. Burbank

    It was like the first debate only reversed. Romney was the one that seemed off and flat this time.

    October 23, 2012 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  19. poster

    and how much of the big $$ (Wall Street-friendly election funds) hired mercenaries to post on forums like this?

    October 23, 2012 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  20. Observing From A Distance

    Only a blind, deaf fool would think Romney Won...or the average Republican. The one thing that really troubled me with the debate was how Romney thought he could change thousands of years of the warring and hatred which is harboured by the Islamic world, by a wave of his magic wand. His comment on to make the world a nice friendly place which could be achieved by talking to the Arabs and convincing them to change their evil ways, maybe during a nice chat over tea.....get this straight Romney and every other missionary in training.....the muslims will never give up their hateful, mysoginist religion and convert to Mormonism, catholicism, evangelism or any other religion....they are what they are and will remain that way are the infidels, you are the unclean, you must die.....take Boone Pickens' advice and get thje hell out of the middle east is not just the extremists who hate you.....they all hate can you possibly believe otherwise.....they have have four things.....sand....oil...hatred.....and time and over the next ten thousand years they will kill you all....apply your sanctions to every country in the Arab world and run like hell

    October 23, 2012 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  21. mra1614

    I picked up on the word "International' when identifying the poll. Only members of our nation, USA, will be voting. It's insulting and misleading, if not irresponsible, to cite an international poll rather than a national poll. CNN, your Democrat party bias is most transparent!

    October 23, 2012 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  22. Ken

    And in related news..... 98% of CNN staffers think Obama won the third debate, compared to 2% who think Romney won.

    October 23, 2012 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  23. James III

    Romney prompted us to read his 8-10 years plan. And this in the same debate where he criticized the president that he didn't do it all in 4 years.

    October 23, 2012 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  24. Bill Boutwell

    Not sure what debate CNN was watching, but didn't see the Obama victory that they are espousing. However, I am not surprised considering the source. Just can't understand why no one has cornered Obama regarding all of his failed "promises" for the last four years. This will change? Obama certainly has not presented any clear, new plans to get the job done.

    October 23, 2012 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
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