Looking at Recent Debate Cycles
Tom Holbrooke, Professor of Political Science at UW-Milwaukee, provides the following run-down of presidential debates dating back to 1988, which comports with any number of other such comparisons:
Now, on the one hand, the number of observations is small (6 elections and 16 debates), so no, we cannot draw ironclad inferences from the figures. On the other hand, as Holbrook notes, “Across all 16 presidential debates the average absolute change in candidate support was just less than 1 percentage point.”
So, the question becomes whether the general patterns holds in the current cycle. While, as I noted, I think that Romney “won” in the sense that he met and exceeded the expectations games (and will get a round of positive press as a result), the odds are likely that any bump in the daily tracking polls will be small. At a minimum, the likelihood is that last night will generate a previously missing optimism for the Romney campaign and his supporters.
And, of course, there are two more data points yet to go.