Debate Viewers Split On Many Judgments But Clear About Each Candidate's Priorities

October 23, 2012, 12:30 PM GMT+0

(10/23/2012) Overall, 49% say President Barack Obama won the debate, 36% Republican nominee Mitt Romney -- 2012 Presidential Debate III, but on most issues and positive descriptions offered, the vote of debate viewers was much more closely split. Debate viewers were tied or essentially tied on which candidate they thought was smart, accurate, clear, honest, attractive, trustworthy, and coherent, in a poll of 968 debate viewers nationwide conducted by YouGov in the first hour after the debate came to a close.

Debate viewers split, 44%-44% over which candidate responded better to the attacks on Americans in Libya, and split (47%-Romney-46% Obama) on which has a better strategy to keep America safe. They split on which candidate they trust more to assist international economic development, ensure the rule of law worldwide, and provide clear and steady international leadership. But debate viewers did not come away with a muddled understanding of each candidate’s priorities.

Debate viewers rate Romney as the one they trust more to prevent Islamic radicalization (43% Romney-35% Obama), hold China accountable for unfair trade practices (48% Romney-38% Obama), prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons (46%-35%), and protect Israel (48%-32%).

Debate viewers rate Obama better to protect minorities worldwide (48% Obama-28% Romney), and to ensure gender equality worldwide (47% Obama-30% Romney).

Those reactions suggest people may also ascribe very different values and priorities to the candidates. For example, debate viewers came away divided on which candidate would do more to help the opposition in Syria, but clearly more of them believe Obama will keep the U.S. from military entaglements in Syria (44%) than think Romney would do that better (37%).

When dry and remote foreign policy issues engender such strong and differing perceptions of which candidate is better or more trustworthy handling issues (and by interpretation what sense each candidate conveys about underlying values and what matters to each candidate), that may have an impact on how people vote.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here

Photo source: Press Association