Why the First Debate Was a Draw


With CNN, POLITICO and other major outlets calling the first Presidential debate a big knockout punch for Mitt Romney, here are some reasons why the victory isn’t as sizable as it seems.

In fact, last night’s debate was a draw.

First, I’m a numbers person and that’s what the math says. What matters in the polling is not the “who won” question which shows Romney leading. What matters is something pollsters call “movers” and “switchers.” Those are the people who make up their mind or change their vote. In CNN’s focus group there were exactly 8 for each side, and CNN’s samples are usually pretty close.

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You might be asking, hmmm… how could Obama have been flat but movers and switchers were a draw? I’ll explain. These debates are less about who seems to make better points and more about who can actually create an “ah-hah!” moment in the mind of the voter. If actually winning the fine points of the debate mattered, Al Gore would be President. In fact, while Gore clearly out-debated Bush in 2000, Bush effectively appealed to movers and switchers by hammering on Gore’s “fuzzy math.” Obama came off flat and uninspiring and forgot to ever frame policies with values, BUT he got Romney to admit that he supports a voucher program for medicare, which is a clear-cut vote-shifter.

Secondly, the turf matters. Obama’s leading in most swing states, and most people have pretty much made up their minds. So Obama had 2 goals. (1) Move maybe 1 or 2 percent of swing state voters to his column. Verdict? Likely DONE. (2) Solidify his weaker and newly acquired supporters. Verdict? NOT done.

Romney had two very different goals given the turf of coming in behind and with a reeling campaign.

(1) Change the narrative of the horse race. Verdict? Definitely DONE.

(2) Move more voters than Obama. A draw here is not a win because he has to come from behind, and there’s a limited supply of undecided voters. Verdict? NOT done.

So, Obama went 1-1, so did Romney, and the math *that matters* bears this out. Keep working hard in a superior field effort, and this will seem like a very minor bump in the road.

Michael Moschella is the Political Director at the Truman National Security Project


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