Monday, October 22, 2012

The Story of the Debates So Far, As Told by the Polls

On the eve of the final Presidential debate, I thought I'd take a look at what happened after the previous debates during this general election season.  A lot of times, the candidate who wins the insta-polls isn't the candidate who actually gets a bounce in the polls.  Since there are lots of polls, all with varying methodologies and timing, I decided to look at the RCP average for the candidates on the day of the debate. That would give you a good sense for where a candidate actually stands before any voter reaction to the debate itself. 

On October 3, the RCP average was 46% for Romney and 49.1% for Obama, giving Obama a 3.1% advantage.  It's interesting to note that on September 29th, Obama actually had his biggest lead in this average, a lead of 4.3% at which point the polls began to tighten all by themselves.  Anyway, after Romney's drubbing of Obama in the greatest debate rout in recent memory, Romney was able to gain the lead by the eve of the VP debate on October 11th.  On that day, Romney's RCP average was 47.1% while Obama's was 46.4%, giving Romney a lead of 0.7% with a change of 3.8% from the first poll.    While part of the move was undecided voters moving to Romney, most of the move, about 70%, were from people who had been at least leaning towards Obama going into the undecided column.

On October 11, Biden was able to dominate Ryan by constantly interrupting, laughing and smirking during the debate.  Ryan simply couldn't get any momentum in his arguments allowing Biden to win on points, though the insta-polls were mixed.  By the time of the October 16th debate, Romney actually continued to gain steam, with an RCP average of 47.4%, while Obama regained some of his pissed off fans, climbing back up to 47%.  Ryan had clearly not done anything to cause people to view Romney negatively during the debate as the Republican ticket maintained some momentum.  Biden on the other hand, was able to stop the bleeding and show there was some fight left in the incumbents.  In the end, Romney/Ryan gained 0.3% after the VP debate, while Obama/Biden gained 0.6%, effectively giving them a small but necessary victory.

On October 16, Obama was clearly able to best Romney on points in what I thought was an overly contentious debate.  However, there really was no bounce for Obama and if anything, he lost ground a smidge in the post-debate.  As of my writing this, Romney is at 47.7% while Obama is at 46.9%, down 0.1% following a debate he supposedly won, while Romney has gained 0.3%.  I guess people don't mind it when VP's take their usual role of attack dog but they don't like it when their President looks petty and un-Presidential, as Obama clearly did last week.

So what about tonight?  My guess is that Obama tries to tone down his arguments a little bit as he obviously came across as too angry and aggressive.  The Democratic strategy of trying to win debates through rudely interrupting their opponents has helped solidify the base but has done nothing to actually help them get the lead.  On the eve of the VP debate, Romney had a 0.7 point advantage and now, after two Democratic "victories", he has a 0.8 point lead.  Conversely, I think Romney just needs to sound competent and reasonable in order to blunt any polling advantage that Obama could gain from a victory.  And I think he should focus on what was done and not done instead of what was said or not said.  That way there will be no "check the transcript, Candy" moments.  I think talking about how Americans were in a firefight in Benghazi for 7 hours with no support from our military, would be an effective attack on Obama's policy.  It's not like he could argue that he didn't know (how could he not know about a real time attack on a US consulate) or that the attack is untrue (as its obvious we did nothing).  Hopefully someone clipped Bing West's piece on the issue from today:

On September 11, at about 10 p.m. Libyan time (4 p.m. in Washington), Ambassador Chris Stevens and a small staff were inside our consulate in Benghazi when terrorists attacked. The consulate staff immediately contacted Washington and our embassy in Tripoli. The White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and numerous military headquarters monitored the entire battle in real time via the phone calls from Benghazi and video from a drone overhead.

Our diplomats fought for seven hours without any aid from outside the country. Four Americans died while the Obama national-security team and our military passively watched and listened. The administration is being criticized for ignoring security needs before the attack and for falsely attributing the assault to a mob. But the most severe failure has gone unnoticed: namely, a failure to aid the living.

By 4:30 p.m. Washington time, the main consulate building was on fire and Ambassador Stevens was missing. In response, the embassy in Tripoli launched an aircraft carrying 22 men. Benghazi was 400 miles away.

At 5 p.m., President Obama met with Vice President Biden and Secretary of Defense Panetta in the Oval Office. The U.S. military base in Sigonella, Sicily, was 480 miles away from Benghazi. Stationed at Sigonella were Special Operations Forces, transport aircraft, and attack aircraft — a much more formidable force than 22 men from the embassy.

In the past, presidents had taken immediate actions to protect Americans. In 1984, President Reagan had ordered U.S. pilots to force an airliner carrying terrorists to land at Sigonella. Reagan had acted inside a 90-minute window while the aircraft with the terrorists was in the air. The Obama national-security team had several hours in which to move forces from Sigonella to Benghazi.

Fighter jets could have been at Benghazi in an hour; the commandos inside three hours. If the attackers were a mob, as intelligence reported, then an F18 in afterburner, roaring like a lion, would unnerve them. This procedure was applied often in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Conversely, if the attackers were terrorists, then the U.S. commandos would eliminate them. But no forces were dispatched from Sigonella.


It is bewildering that no U.S. aircraft ever came to the aid of the defenders. If even one F18 had been on station, it would have detected the location of hostiles firing at night and deterred and attacked the mortar sites. For our top leadership, with all the technological and military tools at their disposal, to have done nothing for seven hours was a joint civilian and military failure of initiative and nerve.

Romney currently has better ratings than Obama on who would handle the economy better, if he is able to land some well placed hits on Obama's handling of foreign policy as well, Romney could lead in that area too and this election might not be close for long.

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