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Thirteen days after the first presidential debate at University of Denver, Mitt Romney has narrowed if not overcome the strong lead that President Obama held in September – an unparalleled upswing that happened only after the Republican candidate’s strong performance in the debate.
Contrary to popular belief, debates do matter, and if no other journalists are willing to make a connection between Romney’s work on stage on Oct. 3 to his skyrocketing poll numbers on Oct. 4, let it be me.
67 million people tuned in to watch Obama and Romney hash it out on Oct. 3.
That is two or three times the number of people who tuned in to watch the party conventions, depending on the day – even when the nominees gave their speeches.
Conventions draw viewers who support their ticket and political party – they do not attract or sway the all-important undecided voters that tune in to the presidential debates. And yet, a number of prominent media outlets have said this election that debates, like conventions, do not sway votes. Historically, this may be true, but following the first debate of 2012, we have witnessed an upswing for one party indicative of the opposite. This may be because of the huge number of Americans – Republicans, Democrats and undecided voters alike – that are tuning in.
If debate viewers resemble the American electorate, we can estimate that 5 percent of debate-watchers, 3.35 million for the Denver debate, were or still are undecided. Even after dispersing those votes across swing states, that number is huge.
Even if the candidates’ performances at debates do not sway undecided voters on Election Day, still 21 days away, the base supporters that the events excite may make a difference in the weeks leading up to it.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, in addition to attracting undecideds, the debate mobilized supporters of the night’s clear winner – Mitt Romney. Before Oct. 3, Obama led in the number of “very enthusiastic” supporters 59-52 over Romney. After the debate, however, Romney leads 62-60.
Romney and Obama are going into Tuesday’s debate with a more even score than the first, in terms of both ground game and poll numbers. If anything, this should mean that Tuesday’s debate matters even more than the last.
This is an exciting time to pay attention to the political sphere. Ninety-minute presidential debates may be boring at points, but the parts that do resonate with viewers stick. If Tuesday’s debate is as polarizing as the last, viewers might still remember those vote-grabbing bits on election day.
The town-hall-style debate will take place at 7 p.m. Mountain Time at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., and I suggest everyone tune in to C-SPAN to watch without commentator interruption.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Alison Noon at Alison.firstname.lastname@example.org.