In one fell swoop, well, more like one sparkling debate performance, Mitt Romney has pulled dead even in the polls with President Obama, a dramatic reversal for a candidate seen as good as dead after his woeful September campaign performance. If the latest Gallup poll is any judge, this will be a horse race all the way until election night on November 6.
According to Gallup, Mitt Romney received a remarkable five-percentage-point boost in the polls thanks to his debate performance in Denver last week (or thanks to Obama's poor performance, take your pick). Prior to the debate, Obama led Romney by 5 percentage points, 50% to 45%. But, in a poll taken on Oct. 4-6 post-debate, Obama and Romney are dead even at 47%. Whether or not those numbers are entirely accurate, what's clear is Romney has captured much-needed momentum in the 2012 election thanks to his first debate performance.
According to Gallup, roughly two thirds of Americans watched the Oct. 3 debate, and by a score of 72% to 20%, viewers believe Romney did a better job than Obama. Even Democrats rated Romney as doing a better job, 49% to 39%. Romney's 52-point win is the largest that Gallup has ever measured. What's also notable is that the American public judged Barack Obama the winner of all three debates against John McCain back in 2008.
So what does this all mean? Can Romney sustain this momentum? Have voters really shifted in Obama's favor? It's clear Romney received a bounce in the polls from his debate performance, but it's also widely known that the challenger is normally the winner of the first debate. Because the challenging candidate. In the nine elections between 1976 and 2008, there were only two years when the incumbent-party candidate gained ground relative to the challenger; 1976, when Gerald R. Ford halved his six-point deficit with Jimmy Carter, and 1988, when George H.W. Bush moved just slightly further ahead of Michael Dukakis. On average however, the challenge gained a net of one and a half percentage points on the incumbent after the first debate. So, Mitt Romney's gain, clearly above the historical normal, is sort of to be expected.
Then there's the swing state polls. Immediately after the debate, two automated polling firms, Rasmussen Reports and We Ask America, released polls in Ohio, Florida and Virginia which showed Romney trailing President Obama by one point in Ohio, but leading him by one point in Virginia and by two points in Florida. That's a stark change for Romney, who had been trailing Obama in the swing state polls until this week.
But, the true test will be how Romney fares in the upcoming two debates against Obama. Expect Team Obama to come back and hit hard. The Oct. 16 debate in Hofstra, New York is town hall style, and viewers are likely to hear about Romney's 47 percent comment, something which Obama surprisingly did not bring up in the first debate. And the Oct. 22nd debate in Boca Raton deals with foreign policy, something which Romney may struggle mightily with. The VP debate this week on Oct. 11 is also guaranteed to factor into the equation, though it will likely not make as much of a difference as the remaining two debates, barring an unexpected blunder or gaffe.
Watch the swing state polls closely this week, as those are the metrics which can truly make or break this election for Romney.