Romney’s Post-Debate Poll Bump

Mitt Romney has gotten a bump in the polls from Wednesday debate, but it's still too early to say if it means anything.

With the near universal consensus that his debate performance on Wednesday was both very good and far better than the President’s, it was likely inevitable that Mitt Romney would get at least a temporary bump in the polls. Indeed, I noted on Friday that Romney had jumped significantly in polling in Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. Since then, we’ve noticed up-ticks for Romney in the Gallup and Rasmussen Daily Tracking polls, along with a few other national polls, and Nate Silver thinks it may be only the beginning:

Four of the five national polls published on Saturday showed improvement for Mr. Romney. In the Rasmussen Reports tracking poll, which conducted about two-thirds of its interviews after the debate, we went from a two-point deficit against Barack Obama to a two-point lead. Mr. Romney gained two points in the Gallup tracking poll, which now shows him down by three. He also gained roughly 1.5 percentage points in the RAND Corporation’s online tracking poll, reversing a gain that Mr. Obama had made on Friday. And a companion pair of polls published by Clarus Research Group just before and after the debate showed a five-point swing toward Mr. Romney. He trailed Mr. Obama by four points in a poll that Clarus Research Group conducted on Tuesday night, before the debate, but led him by one point in a poll they conducted on Thursday.

All of these national surveys except for the Clarus Research Group poll still contain some predebate interviews, meaning that they may underestimate the gains that Mr. Romney may eventually realize. This particularly holds for the Gallup and RAND Corporation tracking polls, which use seven-day filed periods; only about 30 percent of the interviews in those polls postdate the debate. In general, the surveys seem to be consistent with a universe in which Mr. Romney has been polling about evenly with Mr. Obama nationwide in interviews conducted after the debates.

There were few state polls published on Saturday, but a Gravis Marketing poll of Colorado also showed a sharp reversal toward Mr. Romney. He led in its newest survey, which was conducted on Thursday after the debate, by 3.5 percentage points. Although Gravis Marketing polls have had a very strong Republican lean so far this cycle, the trend in the poll is nevertheless extremely favorable for Mr. Romney, since he had trailed Mr. Obama by roughly five percentage points in a poll it conducted in September.

Silver goes on to note that the one piece of good news for the President in these numbers may be the fact that Romney’s numbers aren’t as strong in polls of Registered Voters as they are in polls of Likely Voters, which may be important because Likely Voter polls tend to be more sensitive to what end up being temporary changes in the numbers than Registered Voter polls. [PDF] Even assuming this is true, though, it’s still worth noting that Likely Voter polls are generally considered to be a more likely indicator of the mood of the electorate when you’re this close to Election Day, especially when you factor in early voting.

Because of these changes in the national polls, the RealClearPolitics average for the national race is now down to a +1.4 point advantage for the President, with a rather dramatic change in the chart:

As Silver goes on to note, though, it’s still too early to tell if this is a temporary bump or something that amounts to a more fundamental change in the race in the final 30 days before election day. It’s entirely possible that the debate bump will fade as we get further away from it, for example, or that a positive spin on what was otherwise another disappointingly weak jobs report could help blunt some of the damage that the President may have done to himself on Wednesday. For the moment, though, it seems fairly clear that in the immediate days after the debate Mitt Romney has managed to both pick up support from voters who previously described themselves as undecided as well as apparently picking away some of what Silver calls Obama’s softer supporters. How long it lasts, though, is another question.

On that point, ABC News’s Amy Walter notes that, despite the debate, the fundamentals in the election continue to favor the President:

1) Voters are feeling (somewhat) better about the economy and direction of the country.

On Friday, the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index reported that consumer confidence had climbed for a sixth straight week, the “longest such stretch since early 2006.”

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 44 percent of Americans thought the economy will get better over the next year – the highest percentage since the fall of 2009, and six points better than the fall of 2008.

2) Despite frustration with Obama, Romney is not seen as better able to handle the economy.

A majority of voters continue to disapprove of the job Obama is doing on the economy. But, they are less disappointed in him than they used to be. And, they don’t see Romney as able to do any better.


Meanwhile, voters’ confidence that Romney will do a better job on the economy has dropped significantly between August and September. Back in August, Romney had a seven point lead on the question of who’d do a better job on the economy.

Today, Romney and Obama are tied. Gallup showed a similar trend between August and September.

3) Electoral map is shrinking, not expanding.

Despite earlier predictions by the Romney campaign that they would be competitive in traditionally blue states like Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, they are putting no serious effort into any of them. Moreover, the Paul Ryan pick gave Romney only a short-lived bounce in Wisconsin. The latest polls in the Badger State show Obama with a healthy advantage in the state.

4) Romney’s image problem.

Thanks to the efforts of millions of dollars of negative advertising over the summer by Obama and his allies, and little to no effort by Romney to rebut them, Romney entered the fall campaign with more people feeling unfavorably toward him than favorably

5) The Money Gap

Obama’s $181 million haul last month is impressive. More important, however, is the fact that his campaign has been smart in how they spend it. As the New York Times reported last week, the Obama team has been able to stretch their dollars further thanks to a sophisticated ad buying strategy. This has meant that even as Republicans (Romney plus the outside independent groups supporting him) have outspent the Democrats (Obama plus his independent group allies) by more than $40 million on TV ads since April, Obama and his allies have run 35,000 more ads.

All of these factors are important, but I think the most important of all is the Electoral College. I’ve been noting for months now that Mitt Romney has an incredibly narrow path to victory (see here, here, and here), and none of that has changed. As Walter notes, the possibility of the GOP being about to pick up a state like Wisconsin seems to be out the window at this point. The same appears to be true of Michigan, where the Romney campaign had been hoping that they’d be able to perform better. Pennsylvania, long a state that Republicans have thought they had a chance of winning, similarly seems to have slipped out of their grasp. That leaves a group of about eight states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa,  Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia) totaling 106 Electoral votes for the candidates to fight over.

The current RCP Electoral College Map looks like this:

Based on these projections, President Obama would only need to win 19 additional Electoral Votes to get to 270. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, would need to win at least 86 Electoral Votes, representing 84% of the outstanding Electoral Votes. That means he most certainly would have to win Florida, Ohio, and Virginia (60 Electoral Votes) to even have a chance of getting a victory here. Is it possible? Well, recent polling in all three states shows Romney gaining on the President, but it’s worth noting that all of that polling comes from Rasmussen, We Ask America, and Gravis Marketing, polling firms with a decidedly Republican bias. They also all happen to be firms that engage in robo-calling, which means they are missing cellphone-only voters, which tend to favor Obama. I’d wait until we get some more reliable numbers before saying that there’s a real Romney trend going on in any of those states.

So yes, Mitt Romney is ticking up in the polls in the wake of the debate. What we don’t know yet is whether this is something that’s going to mark a new turn in the race itself, or whether it’s simply a temporary phenomenon. We also don’t know the true impact of Friday’s jobs report, or this Thursday’s upcoming Vice-Presidential debate, although the effect of that debate is likely to be minimal if history is any guide. We also don’t know if the gains in the national polls will filter down to the state level polling to such an extent that Romney’s path to Electoral College victory becomes more plausible. If we’re still seeing this trend a week from now, then maybe we can say it’s something. Right now, though, it’s just a matter of waiting and seeing.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Markey says:

    “I will fire Big Bird-PBS” bump?

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Now that Romney has denied and backtracked on everything that he’s said it appears that the public is finally warming up to his inauthenticity and phoniness.

  3. Herb says:

    While I’m tempted, like Al-Ameda, to hit Romney on his inauthenticity and phoniness, I think its useful to remember that when Mitt Romney plays to the Tea Party types (his 47% comments), he drops in the polls.

    When he doesn’t, he becomes more popular.

    For some reason, that makes me hopeful. Not for Mitt Romney’s candidacy but for this country. Mitt Romney may turn out to be a snake oil salesman. The good news is that he won’t find many crowds clamoring for a bunch of snake oil.

  4. I know it’s low hanging fruit, but where are all the “unskewed polls!1!!” people now that he’s ticking up?
    Shouldn’t he be up by 15 or so in that world? Where is the dancing in the streets?
    Or surprise, surprise, now that he’s closing a bit the polls are straight?

    The best (most head shaking, anyway) answer I’ve heard is that the “unskewing” forced the lamestreme pollers to be honest.

    What are the odds that, if in the next debate, Obama does well, and the number reverse, it’s all skewed again?

  5. john personna says:

    I guess by waiting until it looked like he was losing, and by that I mean waiting until there was hand-wringing on the right, Romney waited until the right could actually accept a shift to the middle. Staring defeat in the face, a reversion to Massachusetts Mitt became acceptable.

    I’m somewhat sympathetic to people who wanted Massachusetts Mitt all along.

    I’m quite disdainful of people, far right, who for 2 years have said Massachusetts Mitt was unacceptable, who are suddenly all on board.

    (Obama is still a safer bet for a moderate than a Romney who may or may not really be moderate after all.)

  6. Herb says:


    “I know it’s low hanging fruit, but where are all the “unskewed polls!1!!” people now that he’s ticking up?”

    The same place all the “the debates don’t matter” people are…..still there.

    Just saying something different now.

  7. Buzz Buzz says:


    Doubter4444, are you a sockpuppet for “Tom Meloth” (e.g. here, here)?

  8. Stonetools says:

    I wonder if Obama was reading all of that nonsense about debates don’t change things ans was over confident and under prepared before the debates…..
    Maureen Dowd in the NYT wrote a column on how the first debate would have gone had the President gone in prearedand ready o be aggressive.

  9. john personna says:


    Planned or not, he is now free to be more aggressive in the remaining debates.

  10. Herb says:

    @john personna:

    “Planned or not, he is now free to be more aggressive in the remaining debates.”

    I also suspect the remaining debates will not have a silent crowd either.

    If that’s the case, look for both candidates to do some crowd-pleasing. Unfortunately, when Obama does it, it’s a kind of “soaring rhetoric” we’ve all seen in commercials. When Romney does it….it’s “I bet you $10,000 that my 47% is bigger than your 47%.”

  11. Tano says:


    I have remarked several times in the past that the RealClear average of polls is a useful summary, but that one needs to keep in mind that they are a Republican site, and that they put their thumb on the scale to favor the GOP when they calculate their averages.

    One of the variables they play with is the inclusion or exclusion of particular polls. Another is the time that they keep a particular poll in the average before dropping it as “too old”. I have often noticed that Dem-favorable polls tend to drop out after a week or so, while GOP-favorable polls have sometimes stayed in for a month.

    If you look below the graph on their site, you can see all the polls that have ever been part of the average, and which ones, highlighted in grey, are still included.

    For today’s average (and yesterday’s) you see one of the more blatant attempts at manipulating the results. The oldest poll in the average was done from 9/26-9/30. The newest poll that was deemed “too old” and thus dropped, was done from 9/26-9/30 – the exact same time period! So why was that latter poll dropped from the average? Most likely because it showed Obama up by 7. If that poll was currently included in the average, Obama’s lead would be 2.3, not 1.4.

  12. Smooth Jazz says:

    “On that point, ABC News’s Amy Walter notes that, despite the debate, the fundamentals in the election continue to favor the President:”

    Amy Walters = Soledad O’Brien = Andrea Mitchell = Former Democratic Staffer Chuck Todd = Former Clinton Hack & Current Democratic Operative George Stephonopolous = Obama sychophants masquerading as impartial journalists. Quoting Amy Walters is like quoting Nate Silver: These people are too in the tank and drink too much of the Obama Koolaid to be credible. Sorry.

  13. Smooth Jazz says:

    “I have often noticed that Dem-favorable polls tend to drop out after a week or so, while GOP-favorable polls have sometimes stayed in for a month”

    Dude, You’re starting to sound like that “” nut job, hiving up wild conspiracy theories and making stuff up as you go along. Forget about polls and start researching Absentee Ballot & Dem registration compared to 2008. When you get a month out from an election, those 2 metrics, compared to previous elections, tend to be as meaningful as any poll. I would suggest you GOOGLE “Dem registration versus 2008 in Swing States” and note the trend. Report back if you find out anything meaningful insofar as the 2012 election.

    Just as ominous for Obama, he is close to becoming a laughingstock as well known supporters make fun of him as a result of his halting and erratic performance the other night. Sympathetic magazines are featuring him on the cover as an empty chair. Rapper Ice T & Bill Maher suggested he’s still on weed. Leno & Jon Stewart are laughing at him. Saturday Night Live is making fun of him and his supporters on MSNBC. Strong supporters like the NY Times Maureen Down suggest he should start listening to a Dem Presidents on a sitcom. Former VP Al Gore suggests he should stay away from high altitudes when he debates.

    Obama better step up his game quickly. Your rigged Dem 10%+ partisan sample polls isn’t going to help him if the laughingstock meme catches fire.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    If liberals were like conservatives this thread would be 75 comments long and full of denialists. If you want to see the difference in honesty and intellectual integrity between liberals and conservatives this thread is exhibit A.

    I am not surprised at this bounce. Romney did very well, Obama did very poorly. Whether the bounce lasts is data we’ll have in a couple of days. The bigger issue now may be the enthusiasm gap.

    Another liberal telling the truth.

  15. bk says:

    @Smooth Jazz:

    Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell are “in the tank” for Obama? Thanks for the laugh; it almost made up for a fairly crappy football Sunday.

  16. Tano says:

    @Smooth Jazz:

    Dude, You’re starting to sound like that “” nut job, hiving up wild conspiracy theories and making stuff up as you go along

    Listen punk, I am no “dude”. I am a bit of a political junkie, so I do follow these polls just about every day, and when one does that, one notices patterns. If one is awake, that is.

    Forget about polls and start researching …

    Actually, my intention was to make a small point about polls, so, no, I am not going forget about polls.

    I would suggest you GOOGLE… Report back if you find out anything meaningful insofar as the 2012 election.

    What the hell are you talking about? I made a specific point about the integrity of the RealClear averages of polls. That is all. I made no statement about the election, about the course of the campaign, I made no prediction about who would win. Simply noting the fact that RCP has their thumb on the scale.

    Would you care to hypothesize about why the NPR poll was dropped from the average? Y’know, share your opinion about the actual subject of my post?

    If not, then why are you responding to me at all?

    Your rigged Dem 10%+ partisan sample polls isn’t going to help him if the laughingstock meme catches fire.

    Actually, I think you are the one who needs to be concerned about perceptions of being a laughingstock. Some mindless dude who cannot even understand the specific subject of a comment he attempts to respond to, and just launches into his little hack speech.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    This is priceless:

    You enter your positions and get video of Romney agreeing with you. .

  18. @john personna:

    Planned or not, he is now free to be more aggressive in the remaining debates.

    Unfortunately, the next debate is Town Hall style. Being aggressive when you’re responding to questions being asked by “regular people” can back fire quite easily, if you end up being seen as attacking the questioner.

  19. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Smooth Jazz: “Dude,” you – unsurprisingly – completely misunderstand liberals. We distruct authority. We like to not take our politicians too seriously. Giving Obama crap is how we show love.