Presidential Race Tightens After Debate

October 10, 2012, 1:00 PM GMT+0

(Week of 10/6/2012) Last week, before the first presidential debate, the President held a five-point lead among likely voters in November’s election (the lead was eight points among all registered voters), and appeared headed towards victory. But Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s strong performance in that debate helped his campaign and has tightened the race once again: in this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll, the President continues to lead, but by just three points among likely voters — within the poll’s margin of error.

Almost all partisans are committed to their nominees. Just 3% of self-identified Democrats claim they will defect and support the Republican; only 6% of Republicans will vote to re-elect the incumbent Democrat. Independent voters are more divided. This week, Romney holds a lead with that critical voting group: 49% of likely voters who think of themselves as independents will vote for Romney, 37% for the President. More than one in ten independents are as yet uncommitted to either major party candidate. The President has a 3-to-1 lead with Hispanic voters and a 2-to-1 edge with moderates. He has smaller leads among college graduates and—perhaps surprisingly—trails Romney by just seven points among those with annual family incomes above $100,000.

It is clear that last Wednesday’s debate helped Romney considerably. Among all registered voters, 60% said Romney won that debate, including more than a quarter of those currently supporting Barack Obama and nearly all Romney’s own voters. Only 15% of registered voters thought the President did the better job in the debate.

Among those who watched all of the debate, Romney did even better: 74% thought Romney won, while just 11% thought the President did. This result is the exact opposite of debate expectations. In last week’s poll, 37% of registered voters expected the President would do the better job in the debate; 26% thought Romney would win.

More important for Romney, the debate may have helped his image. Although 42% of voters (and even more Obama supporters) said their opinions of both candidates were unchanged by the event, one in three voters said the debate made them more favorable towards the former Massachusetts Governor. Less than half that number said they became more unfavorable toward him. In particular, Romney succeeded in making his own supporters more positive about him. 75% of Romney voters said the debate made them more favorable towards their candidate.