Debate Didn't Change The Dynamic; Obama More Aggressive, But Not More Persuasive

President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney participate in the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Tuesday. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney participate in the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Tuesday. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

There is only one real measure of who won a debate — who won undecided voters?

According to a CNN poll after Tuesday night’s presidential debate, it was a tie: “Who did the debate make you more likely to vote for?” Barack Obama 25 percent, Mitt Romney 25 percent.

Most pundits thought Obama won the debate. In a CBS poll of debate viewers, Obama was thought to have won, 37 percent to 30 percent. The CNN poll had it Obama 46, Romney 39.

But on the crucial issue of “who would do a better job on the economy?” Romney won. CBS had it Romney, 65 percent, Obama 34 percent. And CNN: Romney, 58, Obama, 40.

Obama thrilled some of his supporters just by “showing up.” He did much better than in his first debate — he was more aggressive, and often seemed irate and indignant. But he did not answer the question that has kept many undecided voters undecided: What would he do differently in a second term?

Obama scored many debating points, but on issue after issue he failed to be persuasive.

The CNN poll revealed that Romney is now seen as a strong, “presidential” alternative:

“Who seemed to be the stronger leader?” Romney 49 percent, Obama 46 percent. “Who would better handle the economy?” Romney 58, Obama 40. “Health care?” Romney 49, Obama 46. “Taxes?” Romney 51, Obama 44. “Deficit?” Romney 56, Obama 36.

On questions about debate performance, Obama fared better. “Who was more likable?” Obama 47, Romney 41. “Who spent more time attacking his opponent?” Obama 49, Romney 35. “Who seemed to care more about audience members?” Obama 44, Romney 40. “Who answered questions most directly?” Obama 43, Romney 45.

Obama out-scored Romney in debating points, as John Kerry did with George W. Bush before losing the election. You can win a battle and lose the war.

The debate was combative, but not conclusive. Obama did what he needed to do to rouse and reassure his supporters. Romney reinforced his base too. Neither candidate did particularly well in projecting a “winning personality” because both were confrontational and often just reiterated points from their stump speeches.

Romney had a closing theme that could prove to be winning: “We don’t have to settle” for this kind of economy. It’s an echo of what John Kennedy used against Richard Nixon in 1960: “We can do better.” Obama had a message of “fairness” for his base, but not a theme for undecided voters who worry that the next four years will be like the last four.

Both campaigns will wage a debate about last night’s debate — who won and who was right on various issues. Most undecided voters will just patiently wait for the next debate.

Todd Domke is WBUR’s Republican analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.

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  • Sinclair2

    John Kerry was clobbered relentlessly with”swift boater” lies right up to the election by right-wing Kerry haters who still think that the Vietnam War was a just war against the “Domino Theory” of a Communist takeover of the world.  They were able to influence the short term memories of gullible voters long after the debates were over.
     Todays Republican strategy is to have fear mongering billboard signs owned by right wing “Clearpoint” advertising impending doom for voter fraud and directed toward black communities and paid for by unknown donors.  This is an attempt by Republicans to make up for their loss in preventing blacks (and the poor) from voting without photo I.D. cards.  Some wealthy Republicans are still keeping racism alive with their money and power.

    Meanwhile the Koch brothers (and other corporate leaders) are telling thousands of their employees that they could lose their jobs if Obama is elected.  Under these circumstances and like Kerry, Obama could lose the election.

    • razorfish

      What did the Swift Boaters lie about? 

  • Bluefishpatty

    Remember Bonanza, the Tv Western… I was always fascinated by the fellow who came into town in a wagon…a slim man, always smiling…telling of his success in curing what ails you. The people would gather ’round…and listen to all the stories… Convinced that this man had their future well being in hand..they bought…and bought some more…. And today…125 years later…amature treasure hunters dig the bottles of promise up..and shake their head at the gullible people looking for a quick cure…  I can see the name Obama on the side of every wagon…. history is great, isn’t it?

    • Sinclair2

      Funny thing, as I was reading your little story, I thought you were leading up to Romney.  No one will question Romney’s documented reputation of selling snake oil.  It’s all captured on news videos and in his quotes in newspapers over the years. 

      From his run against Ted Kennedy to the Rupublican primary this year, it’s all there.  Even Republican pundits admit that Romney will say anything to win.  Doesn’t matter what he says as long as voters on that day are won over.  He then moves on to the next city to sell more snake oil.

      From pro-choice to “pro-life”, mandatory public health care to no health care, claims to have balanced the Mass. budget when it’s actually state law to balance the budget, from no new taxes to back door taxes (fees) to include eliminating deductions for the middle class.  You want minorities or women in government (they’re nothing but a commodity), send out a procurement notice looking for “binders” and call it Affirmative Action.  To him, they’re nothing but bragging rights and props to decorate his administration for others to see.

      Romney is nothing but trouble for this country especially if he tries to practice foreign policy.  He’ll then be seen as a security risk by our career foreign policy professionals.

    • disgusted


      Obama may not
      have been as successful accomplishing the kind of change he and his supporters
      had hoped for. And he hasn’t been able to completely turn around the worst
      economy since the great depression, hand delivered by 8 years of Bush. Perhaps
      it’s related to the republican house’s stated #1 priority ‘to make Obama a 1
      term president’, not to improve the economy or create jobs or help save homes,
      or do anything constructive…but to do everything possible to prevent progress
      of any kind.

      The tea party
      republicans count on the ignorance of the uneducated and easily manipulated,
      and of course their core supporters….the white male population that has no
      frame of reference for any experience outside of their own, which accounts for
      their complete lack of empathy.

      that in the state Romney touts as having the #1 public schools in the nation,
      and with some of the best colleges and universities anywhere in the
      world…Obama will crush Romney.  Imagine
      if the rest of the country had the benefit of a better education? They might be
      able to spot the real snake oil salesman, the one that has spent his entire
      life worrying about himself…now claiming to be concerned about everyone else.  The one that says out loud in private that
      47% of Americans are victims and don’t take responsibility for themselves, and
      that they aren’t the people he needs to worry about….then says repeatedly in
      public that he cares about 100% of the American people.  We already did arrogant and ignorant for 8
      yrs of Bush, 2 wars, giant deficits, and a crippled economy later we’re still
      picking up the pieces.

      The son of George
      Romney, the chairman and president of American Motors corp. and the governor of
      Michigan, who has had every advantage available in the world. Of course Mitt
      Romney is successful, only a complete imbecile could fail with those kinds of
      advantages. Contrast this with the community organizer that worked his way up
      from the bottom, overcoming odds and obstacles that people like Romney can’t
      even imagine.  Now ask yourself, who is
      really more interested in the success of the bottom 98%?  Who can actually relate to a ‘typical’ family’s

      While I can
      completely understand the 2% wanting a guy like Romney as president, what I can’t
      understand is how anyone in the 98% can believe that a man with his experience,
      history, and track record is suddenly going to be worried about the kind of
      people he laid off when he was buying/bankrupting/parting out the companies
      those people used to work for.  This guy
      just wants to feed his ego, he wants to succeed where his father failed.  He doesn’t give a damn about the 98%, he just
      wants to be president…which is fine, but let’s just be honest about it.

      I’m a
      registered independent that pays more taxes annually than many people make in a
      year. I’d much rather have my tax $ go to help a child or a disabled person
      than to tax breaks for big oil, agribusiness, and the rest of the corporate
      welfare handouts ($100B worth).


      • razorfish

        “Worked his way up from the bottom”??? Obama, the child of a Harvard educated father and a PhD mother, attended the exclusive Punahou School in Honolulu, then Occidental College, Columbia University, and Harvard Law School. It would be more accurate to say that he worked his way up from the top.

        • Sinclair2

          Typical Republican DISHONEST response and SPIN and trolling.  Comments like that do nothing but describe what the right wing is all about.   

          Everyone knows that which is true about Obama’s life WITHOUT a father; and a mother who struggled and strived for her Ph.D. and then died when he was a young boy.  How tragic.  He was ORPHANED.  You can’t change that.  That’s about as low to the bottom without being homeless.

          I guess only empathetic people in touch with the real world and the TRUTH would say that his life was filled with a series of tragedies and disappointments (losing his parents).  As a young ORPHANED boy, his grandmother brought him up with a progressive outlike by seeing that seeking a solid education would be his goal.  He then started from the bottom and worked his way up to seek “the American dream”.

          • razorfish

            Your compassion is touching, but you apparently don’t know much about President Obama’s upbringing. Obama was adopted by his mother’s second husband, Lolo Soetero, in 1965, when he was three years old, so he wasn’t fatherless. Obama has written that his stepfather was very kind to him. His material circumstances were always comfortably middle class. His education was upper class. His mother died in 1995, when Obama was 34 years old., not a “young boy.” Many single mothers “struggle and strive” to hold down a waitress job and can’t afford to pursue a PhD in Anthropology. There are many reasons to admire President Obama, but to describe him as having “worked his way up from the bottom” is a pretty big stretch.

          • Sinclair2

            I stand corrected regarding his being “orphaned”.  However, your unfair description (opinion) that he started from the top is biased in order to minimize his achievements and to debunk the rough road he traveled in his early years. 

            His first ten years were difficult.  They included his father abandoning him and his mother remarrying and moving him to a foreign country.  His life was somewhat stabilized when he moved in with his grandparents at age ten where he could finally establish roots.  He then had to choose between his mother and grandparents to continue his stable family lifestyle.  A tough decision for a kid.  Doesn’t sound like comfort to me.  She was moving away again to pursue a low paying job doing required field work in Anthropology in order to achieve her educational goal.  And that doesn’t sound like comfort to me.   

            You use the word “class” to describe his education and family lifestyle.  Top rated schools do not offer an “upper class education”.  They offer a high quality education and are attended by those who can afford the tuition and/or can meet the entry requirements if one can pick up scholarships, grants, loans and T.A. positions along the way.  The rest are legacy students who will carry on the traditions of a wealthy alumni with respect to propagating endowment funding.  Obama was no legacy student.  He was socially an at-the-bottom student.

            His mother’s education track was a long road.  She received her Ph.D. three years before she died.  By the way, waitressing is far more lucrative than the perceived stereotype.  I’ve known several people who waitressed while pursuing their graduate degrees and lived quite well.  That doesn’t include some I’ve known who were raising children, waitressing and going to night school.

            I also know of two women who are highly paid consultants who work in waitressing if there is a delay “between consulting assignments”.

            By the way, Barack Obama and Deval Patrick both stand as models of achievement-through-education for all to admire.  Education took them from the bottom and propelled them to the top.

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