Despite the pre-debate hoopla including numerous claims that “debates don’t matter” (another claim from those political “scientists”), and the fact that “nobody’s undecided,” independent voters may have well gone into last week’s debate as open minded critics, waiting to see if Barack Obama or Mitt Romney could earn their votes…
Call it the “shot heard round the world,” or maybe just the “poll heard round the American political media.”
Yesterday, Pew released their newest national tracking poll of likely voters, showing Mitt Romney leading Barack Obama by four points, 49-45% with a sample taken from October 4-7. While other national polling organizations like Gallup and Rasmussen had shown a gradually declining “post debate bump” for Romney, this snapshot showed a 12 point swing since the previous Pew poll taken from September 12-16, when Obama led Romney 51-43%.
So where did this 12% shift come from? Perhaps the changing preferences of independent and undecided voters!?
Across the country, various focus groups, pundits of all persuasions, and actual polled voters all concluded Romney “won” the first debate, which was viewed by a record 67.2 million Americans. Add to that the explosion in social media since the last presidential election and the continuing dominance of horse-race cable news coverage, and presto… you have the most talked about debate in American history. And what is everyone talking about? How Mitt Romney won, or why Barack Obama lost. Could that change your mind? Did it?
Wait a minute… you might say. I’ve read things on Independent Voters of America before that polls (especially of independents) don’t matter, they’re BS. We’ll still be the first to point out massaged internal poll numbers, dubious sample sizes, and other methodological mistakes common to American polling, but this Pew sample actually has some creedence, as Nate Silver explained:
The Pew poll may well be the single best polling result that Mr. Romney has seen all year. It comes from a strong polling firm, and had a reasonably large sample size. Just as important is the trendline. Pew’s polls have been Democratic-leaning relative to the consensus this year; its last poll, for instance, had Mr. Obama 8 points ahead among likely voters. So this represents a very sharp reversal.
So for now, it looks like the pundits were wrong. Debates might turn out to matter, undecided voters might just exist at rates greater than 2%, and independent swing voters are already changing their minds (note: that 12% of Pew’s sample which just swung to Romney). However, the race is far from over, and who’s to say the same group of voters might swing right back across the aisle if Obama improves his subsequent debate performances.
And if you changed your mind after last week’s debate, would you be interested in buying a “we are the 12%” sticker? We’re pretty sure xyz% stickers are all the rage this election season…