President Obama’s supporters have been consoling themselves in the aftermath of his disastrous performance at the presidential debate in Denver by repeating over and over again that debates don’t really matter. If that didn’t work, they would say that the verdict of the people would differ from that of the pundits, although the unanimous opinion of even the left-wing crew at MSNBC and the wishy-washy liberal/establishment types on CNN should have worried them more than anything that was said on Fox News. But today we received the first answers to the question of whether public opinion will be altered to any degree by the debate, and the answers are not what Democrats wanted to hear.
The poll of likely voters in three key swing states taken yesterday by We Ask America shows a remarkable swing in favor of Mitt Romney. Previous surveys by this firm as well as virtually every other pollster in Florida, Virginia and Ohio had shown Obama holding on to a firm lead. But according to the latest numbers, Romney has forged ahead in all three states. The Republican leads Obama by a margin of 49-46 percent in Florida, 48-45 percent in Virginia and 47-46 percent in Ohio. All three results are significant and very good news for the Republicans, but none more so than that in Ohio. Romney’s rebound after a tough few weeks in which his leads in Florida and Virginia had been turned into deficits is clear. Obama’s growing strength in Ohio had been moving it from a swing state to one that was starting to be considered to be firmly in the president’s column. Romney’s post-debate bounce has put it back into play on Real Clear Politics’ Electoral College map.
We Ask America reports its margin of error for this poll is three percent, which means all these states are up for grabs. Unlike some other polls, its survey sample is also not heavily skewed toward the Democrats. For example, its Ohio figures show that 38 percent of respondents identify themselves as Democrats with 34 percent Republicans and 28 percent independents. It should also be noted that they listed libertarian candidate Gary Johnson as a choice, which is something that might have hurt Romney more than Obama.
The polls aren’t all rosy for Romney today. While Rasmussen shows Romney up by one point in Virginia, they also have Obama up by one percent in Ohio and two percent in their national daily tracking poll. They also show the president with a net positive job approval rating. But even here, what we are seeing is a halt to the president’s September surge and the beginning of a Romney recovery.
It is possible that this bounce won’t last and that the post-debate push from Democrats which reverts to their successful tactic of sliming Romney as a liar and anything else you can think of will end the Republican’s surge. Republicans still have to take into account the advantage the president gets from the tilt of the mainstream press and the reluctance of many voters to deny a second term to the first African-American president even if his record in office has been poor. The ferocious counter-attack on Romney from liberal outlets after they recovered their sense in the 24 hours after the debate is also bound to depress his numbers.
But these polls still show that what has happened is that a race that seemed on the verge of being over is up for grabs. So long as Romney is competitive in Florida, Virginia and especially Ohio, he can still win the presidency. Democrats who were hoping to put the election to bed early must make their peace with the fact that the election is back to being a nail-biter.