Momentum shift in race after ‘historic’ Romney debate win

WASHINGTON — Initial polling conducted since last Wednesday’s debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney confirms the expectations of strategists in both parties: Momentum in the presidential race has shifted but the contest has not yet been upended.

The latest numbers from the Gallup Poll, released Monday, show a deadlocked race. Obama and Romney each was favored by 47 percent of registered voters. The survey was conducted from Thursday through Saturday, and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Gallup cautioned, in its analysis, that Friday’s jobs numbers, which showed a drop in the unemployment rate to below 8 percent, could “blunt some of Romney’s post-debate momentum.”

Obama began the week with a three-point edge in Gallup’s seven-day tracking poll (a less volatile measure); that survey will be updated at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Throughout the campaign, Gallup’s numbers have shown the race closer than some other national polls. Additional opinion surveys, to be released over the next few days, will help give a clearer sense of just how much the shape of the presidential race was altered by the debate. Of particular importance will be the polling in battleground states where the race will be decided.

Obama aides said over the weekend that the president will be more aggressive in his next debate with Romney, on Tuesday of next week (the vice-presidential candidates will debate this Thursday).

Obama, in remarks to donors in Los Angeles on Sunday night, acknowledged publicly for the first time that his debate performance didn’t measure up and compared it to “bumps in the road” from his last campaign.

Gallup’s polling indicated just how bad a night he had. Calling Romney’s debate showing a win of “historic” proportions, it found that even Democratic voters concluded that Romney had done a better job than Obama.

Overall, 72 percent of debate watchers said Romney had won, compared with just 20 percent who said the president did a better job.

That enormous 52-point edge was larger than the previous Gallup debate record, in 1992, when Bill Clinton out-performed President George H.W. Bush by 42 points in a town-hall-style forum that also included third-party candidate Ross Perot. Bush was seen, on camera, checking his watch, a moment that was highlighted in post-debate coverage as an indication that the president really didn’t want to be there (a criticism also lodged against Obama last week).

The first post-debate polling, as is usually the case, was likely to have been influenced as much or more by news coverage than what happened on the night of the event.

The debate was watched by an unusually large audience – 68 million people – but did not have any major gaffes, which often are associated with swings in post-debate polling.

According to Gallup’s Jeffrey M. Jones, the impact of the debate “was not so strong that it changed the race to the point where Romney emerged as the leader among registered voters.”

But, he added, “even that small movement is significant, given the competitiveness of the race throughout this presidential campaign year and the fact that debates rarely transform presidential election races.”

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