It’s already been decided: Barack Obama will “win” the Wednesday night presidential debate.
“Win,” of course, is in quotes because it’s all qualitative, subjective.
But recent Pew research has released data which shows that voters expect that Obama will do a better job than Republican rival Mitt Romney at the first prez debate battle in Denver. According to their findings, by a 51% to 29% margin, more voters say Obama will do better than Romney in Wednesday’s debate.
"The Duel in Denver." "The Clash in Colorado." Whatever you want to call it, the last time there was a duel in politics that was of this magnitude Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton. This will be a big one.
Nearly nine-in-ten Democrats (89%) expect Obama to do the better job in the debate (duh). By contrast, Republicans are less confident in their candidate: 64% say Romney will do the better job, 16% say Obama. The balance of opinion among independent voters mirrors that of all voters: 44% say they expect Obama will do the better job, 28% say Romney.
The critical data points are with Republican and independent voters. If Republicans aren’t enthused with their candidate, it may be a sign that the conservative base is flaking … which could lead to anything from less Republican voters showing up at the polls (which, in turn, means a disproportionate amount of Dems voting), to conservatives voting for “the other guy,” which in this case could be libertarian and free-market candidate Gary Johnson.
The numbers also show that independents — those less-than-10%-of-voters who haven’t yet made up their minds — are already starting to swing towards Obama … a worrying sign for Romney, who is seeking to win over undecided and independent voters, especially has he trails in other voting blocs (national, favorability, minority, swing states, young people, women, etc. etc.).
Romney, then, is going into the debate with less momentum than the president.
That said, the debate will be the biggest venue yet for each candidate to lay out their plan and win over voters. According to the pew study, a substantial majority of voters plan to watch the debate: 62% say they are very likely to watch, another 21% say they are somewhat likely. If Romney is on his game, he may be able to pull a big upset on Wednesday.
This will be like the Monday Night Football of politics.
Still, does Romney even want to “win” this debate? Last week a Romney aide said Romney would lose the first presidential debate.
In a memo which was distributed to campaign media surrogates re: Wednesday's first presidential debate against President Obama in Denver, longtime Romney adviser Beth Myers tried to lower expectations for the Romney campaign, detailing a series of reasons why Obama is likely to emerge as the winner of the first debate.
She writes that Obama is "widely regarded as one of the most talented political communicators in modern history."
She adds, "This will be the eighth one-on-one presidential debate of his political career. For Mitt Romney, it will be his first." Myers concludes that the debates will not, in fact, decide the election: "It will be decided by the American people," she says.
Seems like a bizarre strategy for the Romney camp to down-play debate expectations, but we’ll play along with it.
For Obama, the debate will serve as a new forum for him to solidify his base and maintain his lead in the polls. The president has a comfortable lead in most polls, has been riding on a post-DNC bump, and has benefitted greatly from many of the gaffes committed by Mitt Romney over the last few weeks. He is ahead in all eight major swing states according to almost all media outlets, and, this past weekend, his campaign crossed the $10 million mark in donations, mostly from small grassroots donors. The president will put his oratorical skills to the test against Romney, who has sharpened his own skills with 20+ strong debate showings over the past 12 months during the Republican nomination process. And while many have focused on how the president can solidify his lead over his opponent, he certainly stands to lose a lot if he does not deliver on his message to swing voters, and veer away from the "first-term referendum" which Romney has attempted to create.
The race is still relatively tight. On Monday, the Rasmussen Reports daily presidential tracking poll showed Obama attracting support from 50% of voters nationwide, while Mitt Romney earned the vote from 47%. Two percent prefer some other candidate, and 2% are undecided.
A recent Gallup poll reports that the dead heat between Romney and Obama in the swing states could shift quickly, as 22% of voters in those states say they could still change their minds.
The "winner" of Wednesday's debate could see a big polling jump.
The loser, though, could be left out in the cold October rain.