Internal Polling Proves It: That First Debate Was a Disaster For Obama

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As you may recall, last year Obama’s poll numbers fell off a cliff after his first debate performance. However, I wrote a couple of posts suggesting that Obama’s problems actually started about a week earlier: “In the ten days before the debate, Pollster shows Romney gaining 2.4 points and RCP shows Romney gaining 1.8 points.”

However, although Romney’s numbers started to improve before the debate, Obama’s numbers didn’t start to fall until after the debate. Today, Josh Green gets his hands on internal Obama campaign polling that shows just how dramatic the drop was. The Obama organization surveyed 10,000 people per night in swing states, so their polling was far more accurate than the smaller tracking polls of outfits like Gallup. There are four main turning points:

  • Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate (or perhaps something else around the same time) produced a monthlong slide in Obama’s numbers, capped by a small but sharp drop during the Republican convention.
  • The Democratic convention produced a sharp uptick.
  • The 47 percent video produced a sharp uptick.
  • The first debate was a disaster, wiping out nearly all the gains from the convention and the video.

In the end, though, what you see is a lot of regression to the mean. In June, Obama stood at about 52 percent in swing state polling. Things went up and down after that, and by early October he was back to 52 percent, where he stayed for the final month. It kinda makes you think we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and angst by not even having a campaign, doesn’t it?

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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