The presidential race today is basically tied. Mitt Romney seems to have a slight advantage in the national popular vote, while Barack Obama has a slight advantage in the electoral college.
How did things get where they are today? During most of the presidential race Barack Obama was leading Mitt Romney by a small but definite margin. Then, according to conventional wisdom, Obama bombed the first debate. That led to a Romney boost, sending the race to where it is today.
This conventional wisdom is both right and wrong. The media coverage focused on Obama doing badly during the debate. Yet Obama didn’t make any gaffes during the debate; he merely “debated badly.” It’s hard to see a swing voter being convinced to vote for Romney merely because Obama “debated badly.” Besides, impressions of Obama are already mostly baked in after four years of his presidency.
What really seems to have changed things is the performance of Romney. Romney apparently appeared really good during the first debate. This seems to have changed negative voter impressions of Romney. A lot of Americans apparently decided that Romney looked like a president on the debate stage and then switched their vote.
Favorability ratings seem to provide evidence that it was Romney’s performance rather than Obama’s that mattered. Obama’s favorables have remained pretty consistent; Romney’s skyrocketed after the debate.
It’s also probably true that Obama was overperforming his economic fundamentals. His lead before the debates was not consistent with what the state of the economy would have predicted. In this sense, the debate merely swung things to where they should have been: a tie. So there is more going on than just a debate.
All this makes a certain sense, and yet it does not. I remember watching the debate, and I don’t understand why so many Americans decided that Romney looked presidential on that debate hall. To this blogger he looked like the same Romney that’s been on television thousands of times before. Romney was perhaps a little crisper from extensive debate preparation.
But then again, my attitude towards a number of things is fundamentally different from that of the American public. I remember being convinced that Obama lost all three debates with John McCain. The American public disagreed. Apparently a lot Americans saw something in Romney that still escapes this blogger.