But by the time of the Denver debate, there had begun a slow movement back toward Romney. And that movement accelerated after the debate and continues to this day, despite the fierce effort by Obama’s partisans to create a narrative of “decisive victory” at the second debate. That narrative has not taken hold and can be considered just more dust in the wind. Voters aren’t buying it and may be tuning out noise like that from both sides in order to render a decision.
Consider this: Both the CNN and CBS polls after the second debate gave the president a 7 point win over Romney when respondents were asked, “Who won the debate?” But on specific issues relating to governance, Romney slaughtered Obama.
The blog NumbersMuncher broke down the shocking details of both polls:
On the economy, Romney beat Obama by 18% in the CNN poll and 21% in the CBS poll.
The CNN poll had Romney up on handling taxes (7%) and the budget/debt (23%).
CNN poll on if candidates had a clear plan — Romney was -1 (49-50) and Obama was -23 (38-61).
Romney even led on health care (49-46), being a better leader (49-46), and giving direct answers (45-43).
Obama led on being likeable (47-41) and who cared more about the questioners (44-40).
While the polls only interviewed voters who watched the debate, the significance cannot be overstated: something is happening out there to Obama supporters and it doesn’t bode well for the president. It’s hard to see someone who doesn’t think Obama is better at handling the economy or the deficit, or who thinks that he doesn’t have a plan for his second term, pulling the lever for the president on Election Day. There must be millions of Obama voters who think like this but have been unable to admit to themselves that it’s time to abandon the president and try someone new.
There have been social studies examining how we make an individual choice when voting for president. They conclude that the presidential vote is unlike any other vote we cast. It is highly personal, emotional, and intuitive and less dependent on the issues or party than one might think, although the tug of tradition is strong and if your daddy voted Democrat, it’s more likely you will also.
The vote for an incumbent president is even more fraught with emotion. The fellow in the White House has been there for four years. He’s comforted you during national tragedy and shared triumphs like the killing of bin Laden with you. And if you like him, it’s hard to make the intuitive leap and vote against him even if you think his policies have failed and are bad for the country.
Millions of Obama voters must be at this point now. They are telling pollsters they will vote for him, but are seeking a reason not to. Those poll numbers show that a devastating majority have no confidence in the future if Barack Obama is re-elected. But unless Mitt Romney can close the sale by offering a credible alternative to four more years of Obama, they will not take that final step and switch allegiance to the Republican. Voters value safety above all and while they may not believe in Obama anymore, if they conclude that Romney is too risky then they will swallow hard and vote for the incumbent.
Millions of voters have already made that leap and rejected the president. Many millions more are considering it. If this is so, then this is Romney’s race to lose