President Obama notched a clear but incomplete victory in his second debate against Republican Mitt Romney, according to a series of instant polls following the Tuesday night bout at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.
But multiple surveys show that the low expectations and stinging barbs contributing to Obama’s success did little to seal a complete win. Voters put more faith in the economic plan outlined by Romney.
As the co-founder of Bain Capital and former governor of Massachusetts, Romney ripped into the president for high gasoline prices, rampant unemployment and deficits that crossed the $1 trillion mark for each of the past four years. Obama portrayed the governor’s own grab bag of tax cuts and military spending as a “sketchy deal” that will ultimately blow up the deficit or cause future tax hikes on the middle class.
The CBS News poll found an overall 37 percent to 30 percent edge for Obama, but Romney held a devastating 65 percent to 34 percent advantage on the economy. Where Obama’s message connected with the 525 undecided voters was on the middle class, with 56 percent of this coveted group thinking he would do a better job of helping them.
The CNN survey also found Obama ahead of Romney, but the Republican still crushed him on the economy (58 percent to 40 percent) and on handling the deficit (59 percent to 36 percent).
“Based on the poll results on the economy, we think President Obama’s narrow overall win is unlikely to reverse Mr. Romney’s recent momentum, and we now rate the race as a pure toss up, with momentum remaining with the challenger,” concluded Brian Gardner, a political and policy analyst for the investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.
The president squandered the momentum coming out of the Democratic National Convention with a lackluster performance at the initial Oct. 3 debate. And last week’s showdown between Vice President Joe Biden and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential candidate, largely ended in a draw. But others sorting through the surveys after the Tuesday night debate saw Obama as having arrested the decline that began earlier this month.
“Obama’s victory tonight, even if it wasn’t an overwhelming one, should at least halt Romney’s momentum and that was something he desperately needed,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling.
The firm’s survey of 438 Coloradoans watching the debate reported a thin 48 percent to 44 percent margin that favored Obama. Among independents, Obama cleaned Romney’s clock: 58 percent to 36 percent. The president also landed significant Hispanic support after criticizing Romney’s “self-deportation” policy for illegal immigrants.
But the Public Policy Polling survey found Romney won the 18-29 age group by 55 percent to 45 percent. And despite Romney’s awkward appeal about using “whole binders of women” to address gender inequality in his Massachusetts administration, he was practically even with Obama when women were asked who understood them better.
In the national average of polls by RealClearPolitics – pre-debate – Romney holds a slight 47.4 percent to 47.1 percent advantage. The Gallup Organization gives Romney a 51 percent to 45 percent margin among likely voters in its seven-day tracking poll. If voters discount Romney on the economy, that advantage could easily flip back to the president.
Online surveys of readers following the town hall-style forum report a massive Obama win. Obama had a 68 percent to 28 percent spread in a CNBC reader survey, and a 70 percent to 23 percent avalanche according to ABC News. As clips from the debate filter over the airwaves, previous debate performances suggest that consensus that may solidify for voters in the days ahead.
Eric Pianin, Washington Bureau Chief of The Fiscal Times, contributed to this report.