Gallup writes that Mitt Romney’s debate performance was the most dominant in the history of its polling on presidential debates, and that performance has now vaulted him into a share of the lead in the presidential race. Gallup’s post-debate polling shows that Romney and President Obama are now tied, with 47 percent support apiece, as Romney has entirely erased Obama’s 5-point pre-debate lead (50 to 45 percent). What’s more, Gallup’s post-debate polling is still based on registered voters, which means that Romney has almost certainly moved ahead of Obama among likely voters — probably by several points.
Gallup writes that, previously, the most lopsided presidential debate was Bill Clinton’s performance versus George H. W. Bush in their town hall debate that took place 20 years ago. By a margin of 42 percentage points, respondents said that Clinton beat Bush in that debate. Now, by a margin of 52 points (72 to 20 percent), respondents say that Romney beat Obama in their debate. Romney was declared the winner by a margin of 95 points among Republicans (97 to 2 percent), 51 points among independents (70 to 19 percent), and 10 points among Democrats (49 to 39 percent).
The Romney-Obama debate represents quite a turnaround from 2008. That year — on the way to Obama’s 7-point win (53 to 46 percent) over John McCain in the general election — Gallup’s polling showed that respondents thought Obama won all three debates. In fact, they thought he won all three in lopsided fashion — winning by an average margin of 24 points (53 to 29 percent). So Romney’s 52-point win represents a 76-point turnaround from 2008.
Obama and his allies have tried to blame this result on foul play, calling into question the truth of Romney’s arguments and going so far as to claim in a recent swing-state ad that because Romney doesn’t sign on to the conclusions of a widely debunked review of his tax plan published by the left-leaning Tax Policy Center, he’s not to be trusted in the White House. In truth, however, it was Obama’s claims in the debate that often lacked veracity.
For all of the talk about presidential debates supposedly not having much effect on election outcomes, Gallup’s post-debate polling has consistently been far closer to actual election results than its pre-debate polling. As they sought to become president, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, all took the lead in Gallup’s polling during the debate stretches of their races. Meanwhile, no challenger or incumbent in the TV era has lost the lead during the debate stretch and gone on to win the election.
Only one Romney-Obama debate is in the books, with two more to come. But Romney now clearly has the momentum, and Obama no longer has the lead.