Following the dramatic impact on polls across the country following the first Presidential debate, there is heightened interest in “Round 2″ tonight at Hoffstra University. Seasoned campaign observers have acknowledged that while debates rarely have a real impact on an election, this year is the exception to that rule. Governor Romney has surged in the polls everywhere but most strikingly in the “swing” (or undecided) states and even more importantly with women within the swing states. Whereas before the first debate President Obama held a 8-16% lead among women in swing states (keeping in mind the inherent problems with polling data working in the Presidents favor http://thinkingrightblog.com/lies-damned-lies-government-statistics-part-2-polling/) – today that lead is less than 1% among women in swing states and well within the margin for error. Given the huge impact of the first debate, what will tonight mean? Probably almost nothing.
Before the first debate many voters did not really know Governor Romney, they only knew what they had heard about him from the campaign ads. A lot of that information was provided by the Obama campaign which had painted him as a rich, aloof elitist with little connection to real people. Many voters were unconvinced that Romney was “presidential.” The first debate put to rest any notion that Romney was a commanding leader that could act “presidentially.” Expectations for President Obama were high at the first debate, and he was the only one in the country that thought that he had done well when he walked off of the stage. Obama had a poor performance, but I think that had less to do with the swing in the polls than did Romney’s strong performance.
I am sure that Obama will perform better tonight. He may have been unprepared and unmotivated in the first debate, he won’t get caught short again. However, no matter how “well” Obama does it won’t change much 1) he doesn’t have to show that he is “presidential” material, he IS the President, 2) a good performance will not demonstrate his charisma or speaking ability, those are already long-established, and 3) he can’t get a likability bump, he is the best known man on the planet and those that like him have made up their minds long ago and those that do not like him will not have their minds changed by this debate. In addition, Romney no longer has to prove that he can be “presidential,” he put that issue to rest in the last debate. Unless either candidate has a melt down (or if unbelievably Obama repeats his lackluster performance), this debate will do little to change people’s minds.