By the end of this week, we should have a better idea of the true degree that Mitt Romney’s strong--and President Obama’s weak--debate performance had on this contest. In the live interviewer polls conducted with respondents with landline and cellular telephones, Obama had a lead of between 3 and 5 points before the debate. Sure, there were some quality polls showing the race even or Obama up by just a point or 2 and others with 6-, 7-, and 8-point leads, but the top of the bell curve showed Obama with leads of 3, 4, or 5 points.
As of Monday night, only two comprehensive landline- and cellular-phone-interview national polls were out. In the first three nights after last Wednesday's debate, Gallup had the race tied among all registered voters at 47 percent. Meanwhile, in an October 4-7 Pew Research Center survey, the two men were also even among all registered voters, with 46 percent. But more important, the Pew survey put Romney ahead by 4 points at 49 percent to 45 percent among likely voters. Gallup’s seven-day moving average among registered voters, released midday on Monday, still had Obama up by 5 points, at 50 percent to 45 percent, but that included interviews conducted the two nights before and the Wednesday night of the debate, as well as interviews on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, so that's hardly a clean look. This Thursday will be the first time we will get a full seven-day, postdebate set of Gallup numbers. Worth noting: Gallup is expected to switch from registered votes to likely voters any day now.
Equally important for Romney was that his previously “underwater” personal ratings went up in the Pew Research survey to 50 percent favorable, 46 percent unfavorable. This brings his favorable ratings up 5 points from mid-September, while Obama’s dropped 6 points, his favorable now 49 percent, unfavorable 48 percent. This was Romney’s biggest pre-debate challenge; having underwater or “upside-down” personal numbers is a heckuva millstone around a candidate's neck.
The Pew Research poll also showed an intensifying of interest among Republican voters. Some had seemed to grow despondent during September. It’s certainly plausible that the debate reenergized them while demoralizing Democrats, who were probably growing a bit complacent last month.
The only live interview battleground state poll that was out as of Monday night was a Selzer and Co. poll for the debate’s home campus, the University of Denver, taken Oct. 4 and 5 of 604 likely Colorado voters. This poll showed Obama ahead by 4 points, at 47 percent to 43 percent, roughly splitting the difference between mid-September polls by CBS News and The New York Times by Quinnipiac University, which showed Obama up by 1 point, 48 percent to 47 percent, and an NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll conducted by Marist University that put the margin at 5 points, 50 percent to 45 percent. All three polls were of likely voters.
More data are always a good thing, and there should be more reliable surveys--both nationwide and in swing states--released in the next day or so that will make it easier to pinpoint exactly how much Obama fell and Romney gained from the rumble in the Rockies.
Romney desperately needed a break, something to change the trajectory of this race, and clearly he got one in the debate. How much exactly the debate did and how much the surprisingly strong jobs report on Friday offset it will become more clear in the coming days.