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. Wakeupcall

    Obama just doesn't get it at all. He is a community organizer whose only claim to fame is popularity as a public speaker. He's lost in terms of really knowing how to lead while Romney is tested and is a demonstrated star. Those who vote for Obama have sold their out to popularity or the childish democratic notion that the successful will always have money for them to redistribute – Obama is the path to the flight of the successful away from the US. Then everyone here will be needy with noone to steal from.

    October 23, 2012 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  2. ROnald

    Why does the quick vote poll say 73% obama won and then the other poll is so close>?????? Makes no sense.

    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  3. James Lyng

    If you believe Romney won this debate by agreeing with the president on every policy, and his holding back and saying little make him more presidential; then you are also one of the few who thinks President Obama won the first debate because he was also very diplomatic and presidential then.

    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  4. Md

    On foregin policy Mitt should study more,Obama had enough experience on it.

    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  5. loreen

    Governor Romney was nervous and could not answer during the debate. Obama was very confident and i assure he will be re-elect as the president...

    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  6. Ruby Jones

    Get out of bankrupt United States,Go Romney be smart this election!!

    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  7. KC

    Obama clearly won on this debate.
    His plans are clear and he is not a liar unlike romney. Romney changes his mind too often – i feel sorry for myself if i am working for his company coz he changes his decision often i feel like i have to take a tape recorder for me to keep up with him. My point is, this is not the kind of leader you would like right?. America we need to be PATIENT! Obama's plan is "on the process", it's not like it will be better overnight, especially with the mess bush leave to him. Obama's plan is for the long run – for our future! To be honest, I am not on either side before, but from the 3 debates i watched i am leaning towards Obama right now..

    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  8. Don

    Is anybody else wondering how the heck a 8 point difference is being called a draw by CNN?
    The margin of error is 4-4.5% right? So how are you claiming that you can't identify a "clear winner"???????!!!!!

    Jeeze, get with it CNN. Obama slammed Romney, just be fair...

    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  9. John

    Well played Mr. President, rope-a-dope the fool in the 1st, & then knock him out in the 2nd & 3rd.

    Ali couldn’t have done it better.


    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  10. Dana

    Obama beat Romney by beyond the margin of error. Explain to me how that results in headlines about "no clear winner".

    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  11. nmdave

    Game, Set, Match. Romney wins election!!!!

    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  12. classicalman01

    CNN....Give us a break....You are becoming more and more like FOX News everyday. I use to believe that this news network would present unbiased coverage of events. However, this network has become increasignly biased against our President and Commander in Chief. It is quite evident that President Obama came out on top tonight, but your poll says there's no clear winner. Get It Together CNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  13. Anonymous

    John G. Painter

    How does a 8% point difference (Obama- 48%,Romney-40%)n favor of Obama fall within a 4.5% margin for error?

    An 8-point lead clearly does not fall within the 4.5% margin of error. This is Republican math. The same kind of math that says when you lower taxes and increase defense spending it will lower the deficit.

    CNN, really? An 8-point lead falls within the 4.5% margin of error? CNN = Creative Numbers Network

    October 23, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  14. TR

    Seems that CNN needs to explain their use of statistics – appears that they are applying the margin of error (95% confidence interval) as if they asked two questions – if BO won and if MR won. In that case some respondents could have claimed that both lost or both won – then you would have a MOE of 2*4.5 = 9, and a result too close to call. In that case, their survey approach would be bigger news than their poll result!

    October 23, 2012 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  15. James

    Romney is the next president he will win and in the famous words of obama you didnt build that well in his case he will build this economy up again unlike the last four years sorry mr president Records Dont Lie

    October 23, 2012 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  16. Frank

    To close to call?? How so 8 points and 4.5 margin of error. I can see CNN is becoming more bias like Fox News.

    October 23, 2012 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  17. JBS

    While Romney could have attacked more in this debate, Obama's attacks were mostly...swing and a miss.

    October 23, 2012 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  18. bryanbeus

    I think that Romney was not as strong tonight as Obama; in the long run, however, I think Romney did what he should have done: be real, be peaceful.
    Obama was more forceful and commanding, but because his record stands against him, it didn't matter. His policies are still unravelling in the Middle East.
    I'd say Obama won the debate, Romney won the war.

    October 23, 2012 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  19. Megan

    Romney won in substance and Economy.

    October 23, 2012 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  20. Killroy

    You libs are hilarious! "Mitt had no idea what was talking about. ...He doesnt have a clue". Look at the person in the mirror. Obama is a community fund raiser, Mitt is a successful businessman. Game over. Biggest issue facing the US is business failure/government debt failure. Wake the hell up.

    October 23, 2012 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  21. Floridawoman

    After watching all of the debates it has become clear that president Obama has my best interests at heart. Doing my own research I can not trust Mitt Romney. Had he come out and said his plan for which loop holes and deductions he would cut I would be interested in the information. I though he might go into this at some point, but no. Honestly I had a problem that he will not release his taxes. But on many occasions in the debate Obama has made me feel proud to be an American. He got me in his closing speech tonight when he told me he would look out for my family. I believe him. Come on floridians ... We own the country after bush.

    October 23, 2012 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  22. Ron

    I would not trust Romney to lead us. As you're could see he agreed with Obama with many things. Romney has no plan. Romney take Cheney as his adviser, really? wow. Those are the same fail policies that created this mess Obama is cleaning up right now.

    October 23, 2012 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  23. JR

    What I heard was that Governor Romney was agreeing that these very issues that were being discussed were indeed the very issues that this election is being based on, but, what I heard was that Governor Romney decidedly had an alternative battle plan on how to resolve these issues, which he has consistently and repeatedly outlined. With that, Governor Romney is also coming into this election with already proven successes of his leadership abilities and proven successes of results – from his governorship of Mass, in the political arena, and from his own private enterprises in the private business sector, too. This man is a winner, result-oriented, and he has a dedicated plan for our country and for our country's position and responsibilities in this world – what more can you want?

    October 23, 2012 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  24. Todd

    As the facts come out, Obama is in trouble with regards to Libya.

    October 23, 2012 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  25. Sara

    Anyone who really believes Romney won this debate needs serious counseling. When I listened to Romney, I was truly frightened!!! He has no idea what it means to be President.

    October 23, 2012 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
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