CNN Poll: Nearly half of debate watchers say Obama won showdown
October 22nd, 2012
11:24 PM ET
8 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. jeffgt

    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?

    October 22, 2012 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |

    Do the math before you post a silly question genius. If the margin of error is -4.5 pts for Obama and +4.5 pts for Romney then it's within the margin of error.

    October 23, 2012 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  2. David

    Dear CNN how can your so called "poll" be "scientific" when you poll leans Republican? I call it Phoney

    October 23, 2012 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  3. grace

    Romney agrees with Obama on almost everything, Why then do we want or need a new president? OBAMA is our President Long Live the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

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

    I feel so bad for the undecided voters at this point. Can't they just see it clear what has been like the last 4 years in the White House????? WAKE UP UNDECIDED PEOPLE!!!!!
    Obama loves to play the blame game....blablabla......Bush did this Bush did that. What about you Mr. president? you had 4 years!!!
    Give me a break............

    October 23, 2012 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  5. michael andrews

    Romney is going to be mad tomorrow after the President ate his lunch tonight!

    October 23, 2012 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  6. Chris

    Funny how an 8 point margin for Obama gets a title "Poll too close to call". When Romney was ahead by 7, the title was " Romney leads in poll"

    More media bias - CNN is drifting toward Fox News by the day

    October 23, 2012 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  7. Teluu

    Romney clueless about foreign affairs. He went to Israel for fund raise and not for the interest of the American people.

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  8. Monica

    Did anyone else notice that to play it safe all Romney did was repeat word for word what the president just said and agree a lot on what the president has accomplished.

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  9. Ken

    What debate were some of these posters watching? Obama clearly won and showed superior command than Romney. As an independent, I am going to vote for Obama. If you don't trust this post, just look at the voter reactions.

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  10. Ed in Chicago "the libeated north"

    Obana won on every point, you have to be stupid to vote for Romney, he is suffering from "Romenia". Changed positions on almost all his beliefs, say anything to win election, I thought he is going to vote for Obama! Romney is the ULTIMATE Filp Flopper!!!!

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  11. Veritas

    CNN is trying a little too hard to remain impartial. Obama hit this one out of the park. Sadly, those "undecided" voters are either too dumb to understand that or, more likely, didn't watch. How one can be so dense as to by now not be able to pick one of the two candidates is incomprehensible.

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  12. michael andrews

    Romney = EPIC Fail

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  13. Azra

    Obama won

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  14. waytogo

    C-SPAN Halftime POll showed President winnign by .67% to Romneys<35%. CNN posts consistently low numbers for the President. Why is that , wonder

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  15. Jeffrey2012

    Romney was being careful in this debate. He knew he needed to protect the gains produced from the first debate so he played it safe. Probably a good strategy. He worked the economy in where he could sense that is the #1 concern of the voters. Obama was more aggressive hoping to make Romney make an unforced error. Didn't happen. I dont see this having any impact on polls between now and nov. 6.

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  16. lynda

    romney is very weak on foreign policy,and he flip flops on issues. He is very uncertain,and plays it safe by agreeing with President Obama. Romney just does'nt have a clue and is not presidential material. He is a business man only.

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  17. JFL

    Obama owned romney tonight. Romney lied through his teeth again. He wrote an OPed "titled" let detroit go bankrupt where he argued that government help for the auto industry would end the auto industry then during the debate he tried to pretend like he didn't say it. The battleship line was the best.

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  18. OK

    How is 48% to 40% too close to call?

    October 23, 2012 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  19. Steve Wilson

    All I can say is I'm glad I live in Canada. Our federal elections last about six weeks...

    October 23, 2012 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  20. Edward

    The president was very articulate in his debate.

    October 23, 2012 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  21. William Smith

    You do realize a 4-5 point margin of error is encompassing of a 8-10 point spread... right? take 5 points away from obama, give 5 points to mit, 43% – 45%

    October 23, 2012 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  22. JMRofManilanowinCA

    What? No clear winner? Are you kidding me? Did CNN got bought by FOX NEWS for this election? I DO NOT FREAKING BELIEVE THIS MALARKEY!!! I am really disappointed with CNN, I thought CNN is trying to be a centrist news company, but NOT ANYMORE... And for all the undecided? Where have you all been? Have you all been hiding under a rock? Romney has been campaigning for 8 years! Obama has inherited the WORST ECONOMIC decline saince the depression that was caused by a Republican Bush, the recovery might be slow, but we are on the right track. And do not forget the Republican Congress, whose primary goal is to keep Obama get re-elected! So if Romney wins, I won't be surprised- GWBUSH got elected, TWICE!!!

    October 23, 2012 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  23. Guest

    John G Painter – it's a +/- 4.5 margin for each result so obama was between 43.5 and 52.5% and Romney was between 35.5 and 44.5% so obama could have theoretically lost. I'm guessing this margin of error was calculated from the commonly accepted cutoff value of 2 std deviations.

    October 23, 2012 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  24. beforreal

    Why do the republicans fail to acknowledge that Romney is shifty and a big liar? It is extremely obvious to the average American that he speaks with a forked tongue. Obama has done a good job and deserves and shall receive 4 MORE YEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 23, 2012 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  25. Jennfer M.

    Obama won the debate hands down! Romney was sweating up a storm, licking his dry lips, under his nervous smile in defeat. Congratulations Obama! I have pride in my country & the standing leader of our country. Four more years! It's been a rough road, but you're strong enough to get us there Obama & I can't wait to vote!! And side note.. Go Giants!!!

    October 23, 2012 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
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