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Do Presidential Debates Affect Voter Opinion?

Joseph Krassenstein |
October 4, 2012 | 6:14 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


Republican Candidate Mitt Romney shaking hands with President Obama
Republican Candidate Mitt Romney shaking hands with President Obama

After last night's presidential debate, several surveys, including the 500-person CBS instant poll, revealed that Republican candidate Mitt Romney had won.

According to the poll, 46 percent of voters gave the debate to Romney, 22 percent said they believe President Obama was the winner and 32 percent reckoned it was a tie. 

Leading up to this debate, President Barack Obama was up 49 percent to Romney’s 43 percent among likely voters in a Bloomberg National Poll, conducted Sept. 21-24. 

But how do the outcomes of last night’s debate affect the current polling? 

Looking back at previous debates, like JFK versus Richard Nixon in 1960, or the 1976 Gerald Ford versus Jimmy Carter debate, or even the 2000 Al Gore versus George W. Bush debate,  “for all the lore and media buildup, the events haven’t had much impact on election outcomes,” said Mike Dorning of Bloomberg News

“Nobody is going to switch sides on the basis of this debate,” said Samuel Popking, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego. 

According to both Christopher Wlezien, a political science professor at Temple University and Robert Erikson, a political science professor at Columbia University, no candidate leading in the polls six weeks before the election has lost the popular vote since Thomas Dewey in 1948. 

A 2008 Gallup review of polling about the presidential debates shows the debates are “rarely game-changers.”

They did make a difference in the 1960 and 2000 elections, however--both of which were among the closest battles in U.S. history. 

This recent debate could be a game-changer, similar to 1960 and 2000, as last night's performance showed Mitt Romney as a revamped presidential candidate.

Romney is viewed positively and has earned a net positive in the race with 51 percent, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after the debate. Obama remains at an unchanged 56 percent. 

If Romney can stick to his guns and stand behind his statements, he may be able to gain more voters.


Reach Staff Reporter Joseph here.

Read more of Neon Tommy's debate coverage here.

WATCH a clip of the debate below:



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