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. CarolO

    I thought it was nice of Romney to endorse Obama about five times on things Obama has already been doing. Obama did well mentioning some of Romneys flip-flops. To name them all, Obama would have needed the full 90 minutes. Romney did OK but he was trying to play it safe after his screw up in the last debate.


    October 23, 2012 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  2. ColoradoJoe

    Obama is right about new world. Romney is buy votes on the east coast by indicating he'll build more war ships (thus more jobs), but have no place to send them. By the way, where is the Cyber War fund bill sitting? Oh yeah, CONGRESS is still sitting on it. People need to get up with happen on the next war... it'll start via the internet. You have already seen what is capable in the past few years and past few weeks. Yep, more soldiers and ships with no place to go. People do know the AIR FORCE & CONGRESS canceled some air force projects due to being too expensive and didn't work well enough

    October 23, 2012 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  3. victoria

    CNN is still backing Obama to the point it is silly. Any person can see Romney has the intelligence and control and knowedge and courage and strength to bring this country to the base of leadership w/purpose – and – not another 4 more years of failiing. Obama won the debate? Obama won the debate of interrupting and of 'trying to make excuses for the last 4 years'. You can can Obama won this debate but in all world and common sense, Romney won this debate~ ; check the percentages of CNN!

    October 23, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  4. gessoart

    Strange debate. Romney states the the President's policies are terrible, and, well, I agree with most of them. The one term governor had an approval rating of 37%. Not sure why – but read it on wikipedia.

    October 23, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  5. TM

    I am very proud of Romney for recognizing that President Obama is the best Commander in Chief! He agreed with everything President Obama said!

    October 23, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  6. Rob

    Yes ... the Obama you think exists after completely and intentionally misconstruing what he said certainly is a buffoon.

    October 23, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  7. Anonymous

    Who was right on auto company bailout?

    October 23, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  8. ShapeShifterRomney

    It sounded like Romney gave a the President his endorsment tonight.
    Tomorrow is another day, I can't wait to hear which of Mitt's posiltions have changed overnight!

    October 23, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  9. Rebbie

    I think Obama had a few good points, but He was hammered over the failing state of our economy. I noticed that he couldn't even argue with the dismal stats regarding unemployment, welfare, and the fact that most Americans are making $4,300 less a year. If he could defend the numbers, maybe, but he has had his chance and failed.

    October 23, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  10. Norm Walt

    If the undecided pollsters that had the little scoring machines were in actuality using a life support unit, during the approximately 80 minutes of the actual debate, Romney flat-lined for a total of approximately ten minutes and they had to bring in the volt paddles to resucitate him, but, he began to flat-line again within the next 5 minutes. And beleive it or not, this was coming from the men not the women. So, my overall analysis of tonight debate is that Romney flat-lined and the family should be making plans for his "political" funeral. The only way Romney could win the Office of the Presidency is that if the POTUS had a heart attack himself and flat-lined. So, America, get ready for the re-election of the Obama administration.

    October 23, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  11. nvmature

    Too close to call, huh. Really?

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

    There is no question Obama won. Romney practically endorsed Obama. I see a lot of paid Romney supports here on this board.

    October 23, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  13. Kevin

    The first time to know that Mali belongs to the middle east, Romney Kept saying that.

    October 23, 2012 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  14. Joey

    People who say "how can intelligent people vote for Romney?" The very same question could be asked of you when voting for Obama. Please try to be respectful of other people's views.

    October 23, 2012 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  15. Tim

    Would you listen to the Weeping and Wailing and Gnashing of teeth of the haters in here !! Obama rocked!

    October 23, 2012 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  16. MarioLuiggi

    While Obama won this battle, it is clear now that he will loose the war to Romney. period. He was a bit better on this debate, but they were both close on the issues and the results on "who will you now vote for" is what matter. This same poll shows they were dead even with 25% each of the electorate. With Romney trending higher by far on the economy, we will continue to see the trend going in that direction by a few more points which will do the trick for Romney.

    October 23, 2012 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  17. tiger22

    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?

    If it were 9 or more, it would be outside the margin for error, for example Obama 49%, Romney 40%. 4.5 either way is the spread.

    October 23, 2012 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  18. rgm

    Romney was not able to articulate a foreign policy opinion. If he's in the situation room, will he call President Obama? Or more likely, he'd oursource the work to China. President Obama won this debate and it's outside the margin of error.

    October 23, 2012 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  19. Michael

    CNN Political unit: how is 48 to 40 a narrow wine, within the margin of error of 4.5% Get it together, folks, it is simple arithmetic

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

    You can argue that this debate will not have a major effect on the outcome of the election, but saying Mitt Romney won this debate is delusional. I particularly liked how the audience's opinion went from very high during President Obama's closing speech, to flat-lining during Romney's.

    October 23, 2012 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  21. General Jean

    Obama rocks! He will win because the populace knows he has the back of the 99% of us and Romney is for the 1%. Also, he is much more thoughtful and respectful. Romney is a bully which was evident on his 1st and 2nd debate. He sat quietly tonight because he didn't have anything to say, especially when Obama corrected his lies.

    October 23, 2012 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  22. clearly obvious

    Romney just pulled an Obama in the 1st debate. Way to not show up and lose every argument. When Romney is challenged the slightest bit he gets uncomfortable and looks like he has the shingles, he also struggles to make a sound argument.

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

    i find it interesting on CNN's site that the overwhelming number of people felt Romney helped himself tonight. Romney is odds on for 295+ electoral votes. at least 3 points in the popular vote.

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

    How can an 8 percentage point difference still be within the sampling error? This would be wrong in any high school level stats class. Come on! Get a better sample, get a better sample size, get a better poll!

    October 23, 2012 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  25. Maria

    48% to 40% is not a close debate. Obama is clearly the winnder and has my complete vote, early voting tomorrow!

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