Romney Narrows Vote Gap After Historic Debate Win

Romney Narrows Vote Gap After Historic Debate Win

by Jeffrey M. Jones

By record-high margin, debate watchers say Romney did better

PRINCETON, NJ -- Registered voters' preferences for president are evenly split in the first three days of Gallup tracking since last Wednesday's presidential debate. In the three days prior to the debate, Barack Obama had a five-percentage-point edge among registered voters.

Comparison of Registered Voters' Presidential Preferences, Before and After First Presidential Debate, 2012

Gallup typically reports voter presidential preferences in seven-day rolling averages; the latest such average as of Saturday interviewing shows Obama with an average three-point edge, 49% to 46%, among registered voters. This Sept. 30-Oct. 6 field period includes three days before the Oct. 3 debate, the night of the debate itself, and three days after the debate.

Even on this basis, the race has become somewhat more competitive compared with before the first debate. Obama held four- to six-point leads in Gallup's seven-day tracking results in the eight days prior to the Oct. 3 debate.

Registered Voters' 2012 Preferences for President if the Election Were Held Today, September-October 2012

Should Mitt Romney's momentum continue in the coming days, that gap in the seven-day rolling average would narrow further.

Romney Posts Historic Win in Debate

An Oct. 4-5 Gallup poll finds roughly two in three Americans reporting that they watched the Oct. 3 debate, similar to what Gallup measured for each of the three 2008 presidential debates. Those who viewed the debate overwhelmingly believe Romney did a better job than Obama, 72% to 20%. Republicans were nearly unanimous in judging Romney the winner. But even Democrats rated Romney as doing a better job than Obama, 49% to 39%.

Regardless of which candidate you happen to support, who do you think did the better job in last/Wednesday night’s debate -- [ROTATED: Mitt Romney (or) Barack Obama]?

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These assessments are based on interviewing conducted Thursday and Friday after the Wednesday night debate, and may reflect the impact of news stories and media commentary -- which mostly declared Romney as the debate winner -- as well as personal reactions to the debates as they unfolded.

Gallup has assessed opinion on who did better in most past presidential debates; some of these polls were conducted the night of the debate with pre-recruited samples of debate watchers immediately after it concluded, and some were conducted with more general samples of Americans in the days that followed the debate. Across all of the various debate-reaction polls Gallup has conducted, Romney's 52-point win is the largest Gallup has measured. The prior largest margin was 42 points for Bill Clinton over George H.W. Bush in the 1992 town hall debate.

Romney's debate performance is also notable from the standpoint that U.S. debate watchers judged Obama the winner of all three 2008 debates with John McCain.

Implications

The first presidential debate went decidedly in Romney's favor. The debate appears to have affected voters to some degree, given the narrowing of the race in the three days after the debate compared with the three days prior. Still, the impact was not so strong that it changed the race to the point where Romney emerged as the leader among registered voters. Rather, at least in the first three days of Gallup tracking after the debate, the race is tied.

But even that small movement is significant, given the competitiveness of the race throughout this presidential campaign year and the fact that debates rarely transform presidential election races.

However, the generally positive unemployment report released on Friday may serve to blunt some of Romney's post-debate momentum.

In any case, with a month to go before Election Day, the outcome of the 2012 presidential election is still very much in doubt. That certainly raises the stakes for both candidates in the next two debates, Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

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Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 4-6, 2012, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,387 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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