The final debate was widely considered the final opportunity to change the trajectory of the race — and President Obama won the initial “snap polls” taken immediately following the debate, just as he did after the second debate. A closer look at the numbers, however, might indicate the victory is not going to translate into a bounce in the polls.
CBS conducted an online snap poll after the debate which had Obama winning 53–23. The poll did not get any demographic information, which makes measuring the poll’s results difficult. In the areas they did give results, Obama led 64–36 on terrorism and the candidates split 50–50 on handling China.
The CNN telephone snap poll showed a much tighter Obama win of 48–40 among registered voters (with a sample of 34 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republicans, and 36 percent independents). Some 59 percent of respondents felt Obama did a better job than they expected while 44 percent said the same of Romney. On the question of being a stronger leader, Obama led 51–46.
But the most important stat of the CNN poll? Of those who felt the debate helped them decide who to vote for, it was 24 percent for Obama and 25 percent for Romney. When all is said and done, an 8 percent victory in the debate for Obama actually translates to a 1 percent net gain for Romney.
PPP conducted a telephone snap poll in swing states that had Obama winning the debate 53–42 (sample: 43 percent Democrats, 37 percent Republicans, 20 percent independents). On handling foreign policy, voters favored Obama 51–47, but independents gave Romney a one-point, 49–48 advantage. Overall, 37 percent were more likely to vote for Obama compared with 31 percent being less likely, while 38 percent felt more likely to vote for Romney compared with 35 percent turning less likely.
But the stat of the night comes from the PPP poll: While independents by a 55–40 percent margin felt Obama won the debate, they became more likely to vote for Romney (47 more likely — 35 less likely) than Obama (32 more likely — 48 less likely).
It’s obviously too early to tell what impact tonight’s debate will have on the polls in the coming days, but the initial reaction feels very similar to the second debate: While Obama may have walked away a slight overall winner, Romney appears to be quietly scoring wins on the issues among independents. And come November 6, that’s the only thing that will matter.