The flood of opinion polls that are being published this week continues to provide a confusing picture of the presidential election. But there is one thing about them on which most people agree: President Obama does not appear to have gotten a bounce in the wake of the second presidential debate. Even the most optimistic of liberal pundits, such as the New York Times’ Nate Silver, whose “Five Thirty Eight Forecast” is still sticking with the president to win in November, concedes that it’s “hard to make the case that the polls have moved much toward Mr. Obama since Tuesday night’s debate in New York.” While he is hopeful that even a slight nudge toward the president could alter the race this late in the game, there’s little reason to believe this is the case. Nor is there any doubt that the only game-changing event in the last six weeks was Mitt Romney’s performance in the first debate in Denver. It was at that point that the polls started shifting in the Republican’s direction. Though Romney made a number of mistakes in the second debate and Obama put on a better show after a drowsy performance in Denver, the electorate was largely unmoved.
No debate bounce means it is even more unlikely that the third debate to be held on Monday in Boca Raton, Florida will move the needle much no matter what happens. Though each camp hopes for a rout for their man, Obama’s failure to gain ground after the encounter on Long Island means a bounce of any size for the president or Romney after the third debate is not in the cards. That’s bad news for Democrats who are still looking for something that will alter the direction of a campaign that has been steadily looking worse for them this month.
That is especially true since Monday’s debate will focus on foreign policy. Foreign and defense issues are the president’s most important responsibility but given the failing economy, they are not at the top of most voters minds this year.
Romney tends to flounder when talking about anything but the economy, but in contrast to his blunders on Libya that let Obama off the hook at Hofstra, it is probable that he will come prepared with pointed and accurate criticisms of the administration’s Benghazi fiasco as well its failures on Iran. President Obama’s only effective foreign policy argument is that Osama bin Laden is dead, but since Libya shows that Al Qaeda is alive and well that point doesn’t have as much punch as it did a couple of months ago. But even if it did, at this point it is fair to wonder whether anything said tomorrow night would have much electoral significance.
The race is still very tight and neither side has any reason to believe that it is home free or doomed. But the trend in the national polls, especially those that are not skewed by unrepresentative samples of the electorate, is in Romney’s favor. He has done less well in swing state polls, but even in those polls there appears to be a shift in his favor as Ohio tightens up and Florida, Virginia and North Carolina all look to be less hopeful for the president than they were only a few weeks ago. If this trend holds, that makes Obama’s chances for re-election look far less rosy than Silver’s optimistic forecast would have it.