The mainstream press is going with the top-line takeaway on the debate: Obama “won.” But as the CNN poll suggests that victory was narrow (46–39 percent). My sense is that pretty much the entirety of Obama’s margin there is from liberal voters despondent about his clear defeat in the first debate. Meanwhile, it’s looking more clear that among undecideds, Romney helped himself more than Obama did (even if those same undecideds concede Obama narrowly won). The same CNN poll that has Obama winning by 7 points has him losing on the economy by 18 points (58–40), and the deficit, by 23 points (59–36). The Frank Luntz focus group last night struck me as a bit too exuberantly for Romney (and a little odd altogether). But he’s supposed to be good at screening groups, and even if they’re a bit of an outlier the fact remains they thought Romney won. Moreover, the MSNBC undecideds — albeit less stridently — felt the same way:
In short, I’m feeling a little better about Romney’s performance and a bit more confident that Obama’s biggest success was in reassuring voters who were going to vote for him anyway. My sense is the press will try to spin this as a grander victory for Obama than it was. The good news for Romney is most of the voters who matter will be tuning out that spin.
UPDATE: I left out the CBS instant poll which also found a narrow victory for Obama:
Moments following the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., 37 percent of voters polled said the president won, 30 percent awarded the victory to Romney, and 33 percent called it a tie. After some particularly animated exchanges between the two candidates, 55 percent of voters said Mr. Obama gave direct answers, but 49 percent also said that about Romney.
As for who would do a better job of handling the economy, the president made some headway on closing that gap. Before the debate, 71 percent said they believed Romney would, while only 27 percent said they thought Obama would; after the debate, 34 percent said the president would better handle the economy, with 65 percent saying Romney would.