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. PCS

    Obama won. Romney's experience in one state or Olympic does not count that he is capable to handle Military or the national budget, Obama has done well over 4 years with the hand it was dealt. He has experience as president not Romney's unspecific random nos. Romney talks about bringing technical and Engineer graduates from abroad.
    How are US graduates going to compete with immigrant graduates who does not have any student loans to pay.
    Our US graduates have 100K-300K loans. Everyone talks about making education affordable. Third world graduates get degree for < 10K. Is this fair? All contract workers should pay additional 20% federal tax and companies outsourcing should be charged 20% tax on the money they spent on outsourcing.

    October 23, 2012 01:07 am at 1:07 am |
  2. pam

    WOW as a woman living in FL all I can do is to continually pray that the people of this blessed United States of America say no to 4 more years of Obama. I'm personally am tired of trying to stretch my dollar and it still gets nowhere. I want to feel safe in my home, county, state and country. I strongly feel is we were attacked again as we were on 9/11 that Obama would do nothing about it, he would try to smooth the terrorists feathers and ask them politely not to do it again. We need a strong minded person that is not afraid to stand up for our principles and our country.

    October 23, 2012 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  3. Bob

    Again a news article with the title like "nearly 50% agree" which of course can also be written as more correctly
    "over 50% disagree". Over 50% did not think Obama won the debate. Granted more thought he won than
    Romney – but the 'almost half' is meaningless as a headline – IMHO.

    October 23, 2012 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  4. Elvis

    Romney was not specific on what he wanted to achieve in the international community, if he was made the U.S president. Secondly the office of the US presidency is not for learners, neither is it for amateurs nor for desperate politicians. last night even though i was one of the undecided voters, i grossly succumbed to the well articulated, decently organised but carefully presented speech of the incumbent president, Mr. Obama. If Obama could say it he could do it after all, he said it before and he did it. President Obama simply made me proud. today as for me and my entire family we have already declared to vote Obama so that we can move forward.

    October 23, 2012 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  5. AP

    Obama manhandled Romney.

    Romney looked as if he was going to cry near the end. Romney is a person without a plan, he is NOT fit to be president.

    October 23, 2012 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  6. AllThatsLeft

    Skewed polls to create suspense and anticipation so that viewers will tune in to their election coverage. The poll on Cnn's own homepage has Obama winning the debate with more than 70% of the vote...

    October 23, 2012 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  7. Mike

    President Obama is a fantastic commander-in-chief, and he won this debate by a landslide. Romney was visibly sweating, and basically endorsed Obama for president as a part of his debate strategy.

    October 23, 2012 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  8. banadoora


    I look at another poll, where over 70% of the individuals believe Obama won.

    Obama was confident, straighforwards, and his debate was solid. Romney, was hesitant, nervous, and weak. I love how Obama provided evidence, as how Romney has continously contradicted his statements. Go Obama.

    PS I have noticed that in the website, well, they are simply trying to clearly shut down Obama.. I wonder why.

    October 23, 2012 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  9. Bill

    Obama – King of Rhetoric without having done anything positive for the country.... He didn't "win" this and shoudn't be re-elected

    October 23, 2012 01:11 am at 1:11 am |
  10. Fsjunkie

    Here's how you rationalize a nod for Romney as Commander in Chief – you convince yourself that advisors and military leaders will keep him out of trouble. In other words you're all about "leading from behind" but you've got it all wrong.

    October 23, 2012 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  11. benwelgoed

    As a businessman Romney will say anything to make the deal happen, a tactic that apparently worked for him (check his bank account). The deal in mind right now is to gain the presidency, after that he'll flip flop, like he's done on every single issue during this campaign. He is in it merely to support his sponsors, who in gratitude will support him afterwards. Repeat after me: Romney will support his sponsors and no one else, and so, as a citizen each of us will be dropped and will be on our own, all of us repeat: all of us will be dumped.

    October 23, 2012 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  12. Steve

    8 points is your definition of narrow?

    October 23, 2012 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  13. JimB

    How could CNN say it was a narrow victory? Every other poll, i.e. CBS and ABC had Obama in a landslide. FOX and CNN want this election close for their ratings. The samplefor CNN was very Republican. If Obama had done this in the first debate the campaign would be over. I was so impressed with how Obama handled every question.Like in the first debate for Obama, Romney seemed unprepared and shakey. Obama called Romney out as a man without any principle who changes his mind in order to win. A used are salesman with no soul. At the end I thought Remney would say he was voting for Obama since he agreed with him on sa many issuesin order to look moderate. I hope the voters were watching. You saw a real president vs a total phoney.

    October 23, 2012 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  14. Scottsvb

    Romney won the debate.... Obama won't stand with Isreal.. he's lieing about that and he don't care about Iran... and wants to please Russia,China.

    October 23, 2012 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  15. Bcarney

    Let me also add, I did some fact checking on my own...Obama never said the words "I apologize" on his apology tour, however, he was demeaning and degrading to the American people in his comments. Maybe he didn't mean to come off that way, but we are speaking about the man who rose to stardom based on his speeches and no real substance, so to say he "didn't mean" to come off that way is a bit over the top...He is not a strong leader, of course if you ask David Letterman he might disagree..seeing as he loves to make the office of the presidency a bit degrading itself...

    October 23, 2012 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  16. suk it

    LOL, these Fake people = Romney Plants..... Clearly Obama won and is a better president.

    October 23, 2012 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  17. Suz

    "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."

    Maybe I am tired, but I am definitely confused......How is 30% Republican greater (5 points?) than 34% Democrat?

    October 23, 2012 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  18. cheryl

    Obama had only 4 yrs to straighten out 8 yrs of carelessness he did the best he could and Romney how can he portray a president at a debate hes never walk in their shoes he is showing he is uneducated at facts of what President does and has to follow the rules he should not guess or portray that he knows how that stupid Im afraid if Romney gets in there he wouldn't know what to do it would take him allot time to figure it out maybe at least 2 yrs if he won Im afraid he might make decisions with out knowing the conscienceless he make me feel scared and worried for me and my children and my 88 yr old father whose a war 2 hero All i can I say Is God Bless America and May the better man win

    October 23, 2012 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  19. Scottsvb

    CNN is full of .org Liberals all over this site. Obama has made this country worse.. Obama talked better in the 1st part of the debate.. but lied.. CNN said he lied about leaving troops in Iraq.. he did want 5,000 to stay behind in their fact check. Also he lied on many other occasions.

    October 23, 2012 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  20. Glen Hards

    Why is my comment about Corporate owned Media, and the polls they pay for still being moderated? People...Polls aren't done for our information, but to sway us; either to the Dem or Republican Point of view; both of whom are totally wrong headed, and bad for Americas Future. But when it comes to oratory and more substantial rhetoric, Obama clearly won by a landslide.

    October 23, 2012 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  21. JakeW


    You seriously need to look at your polling methods. Romney took a very strategic stand in the debate, but it wasn't even close.

    October 23, 2012 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  22. Wow

    Obama cares more about starting trends on Twitter and bashing Romney then he does focusing on the issues at hand. Im a democrat and im truly disappointed.

    October 23, 2012 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  23. DS

    Obama has the experience of giving orders at 3 am and taking the 3 am calls. Romney has a long laundry list of "I will dos" but with no specifics. America cannot others wars any longer given the brutal communal and religious trajectory they seem to take especially in the middle east. He has done just as much as Israel needs and has not sucked up to the Jews who claim they can protect themselves from any one and anything. He is right in wanting to do nation building at home and not build nations for those who will only squabble and send aid to terrorists

    October 23, 2012 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  24. Jeff

    I find it unbelievable that CNN political group does not know how to interpret polling results. What the margin of error means is that ANY difference exceeding that value is statistically significant! Last I checked 8% > 4.5%!

    October 23, 2012 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  25. realmike

    Lackluster debate. Both candidates were trying not to lose ground rather than put it all on the line. Its too bad that these two are the best the political parties currently have to offer.

    October 23, 2012 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
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