Post-debate polling shows substantial Romney bounce

Mitt Romney gestures to supporters near his campaign plane in Weyers Cave, Va.
(Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney’s commanding performance on the debate stage last week has generated a significant bounce for his presidential candidacy, according to national polls released Monday.

The Republican nominee opened up a 4-point lead over President Obama, 49% to 45% among likely voters, in the latest national opinion survey by the independent Pew Research Center. In mid-September, Obama led by 8 points, 51% to 43%, in a survey by Pew, which has tended to show the president with a bigger advantage over Romney than have other major national polls.

Post-debate interviews with 1,201 voters found that the debate had lifted Romney’s standing among a wide range of voter groups. His overall personal image improved, with the percentage of voters holding a favorable opinion of the Republican nominee up 5 points since last month.


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Romney also made major gains among two key elements of Obama’s coalition — women and younger voters. The GOP candidate wiped out Obama’s advantage among women voters. Last month, Obama led by 18 points among women, 56% to 38%; now they are even, 47% to 47%. And Romney’s image improvement among voters under 30 (he now is viewed favorably by 42% of that group, compared with 32% in September) was his biggest improvement of any age demographic.

Obama, meantime, suffered broad declines. On jobs, by a margin of 49% to 41%, voters now say Romney would be better able to improve the nation’s employment situation. That gain for the Republican came even though most of the interviewing for the poll was conducted after Friday’s release of monthly job figures that showed the unemployment rate falling below 8%.

Perhaps most worrisome for Obama, an enthusiasm gap that appeared to have closed after the two national party conventions has opened again — in Romney’s favor. His backers are far more engaged than Obama’s in the campaign; Romney holds a 15-point advantage over Obama when voters were asked if they had given a lot of thought to the election.

By better than 3 to 1, voters said they thought that Romney had done a better job than Obama in the first presidential debate, according to Pew, whose survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

That figure is similar to one by the Gallup organization, which also rated Romney the big winner in the debate. A Gallup survey, conducted in the three days following the debate, showed a 47-47 deadlock between Obama and Romney among registered voters.

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The Pew poll, conducted for four days after the debate, found a virtually identical 46-46 tie among registered voters (Romney’s 4-point edge among likely voters reflects the greater likelihood that his supporters will actually cast ballots).

Gallup cautioned in its analysis that the recent drop in the jobless rate could “blunt some of Romney’s post-debate momentum.” Gallup’s seven-day tracking poll, a less volatile measure that averaged thousands of interviews between Oct. 1 and Oct. 7, showed Obama with a 5-point lead among registered voters, 50%-45%, suggesting that the debate bounce could be ephemeral.

Still to come: the first post-debate polls from battleground states that will decide what is shaping up to be one of the closest presidential reelection votes in decades.

At times, swing-state surveys have diverged from national polls. The differences almost certainly reflect the lopsided attention that voters in those states are receiving, in contrast to the rest of the country, including California, New York, Texas and Illinois, where the outcome of the vote isn’t really in doubt.

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