Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Will the Second Debate Affect the Polls?

It depends on how you understand how the first debate affected the polls. I argued here that the effect of the first debate was to energize Republican voters and to depress Democratic voters. As post-debate polls rolled in, like the Pew poll that had Romney ahead by 4, we saw more Republicans and fewer Democrats identified as likely voters.

One thing that is not happening as a result of last night's debate is some big swing among "undecided" voters. There just aren't very many undecided voters and, if you're undecided at this point, you're a low-information voter who is not paying any attention at all to these debates.

So, what did last night's debate do for Republican and Democratic voters? Republicans who were already energized about Romney will remain so. Romney made mistakes last night but he does a very good job of delivering Republican talking points related to the question asked. Republican viewers came away satisfied with that. The question is whether the debate and, more importantly, the day-after media discussion will energize previously-depressed Democrats/Obama supporters.

My sense is that the debate will do that at least to some extent. The President was feisty, was hitting the key themes Democrats want to hear about, and hit Romney in three ways that Democrats had been worried about:

1) The President reminded everyone of his commander-in-chiefyness with the Libya exchange
2) The President helped fire up women on a number of answers (Ledbetter Act, contraception/abortion, Romney's silly binders answer)
3) The President emphasized over and over that Romney is going to cut taxes for the most wealthy, will favor the most wealthy, and finished the debate by finally raising the 47% issue and, because it was the last response, Romney couldn't bat it down.

How much will this move the polls? Very, very little in my view. But, to the extent it has an effect, Obama will gain a little ground.

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