Everyone agrees that this past week was a big deal for Mitt Romney. Boffo reviews for his debate performance Wednesday night, a pirouette toward moderation that may attract undecideds and some disaffected Democrats – as long as they’re not cynically reminded of the infamous “Etch A Sketch” prediction by Romney’s advisor back in March, the child’s toy invoking “flip-flop.”
It was, as senior Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said on several TV talk shows Sunday, a “masterful performance.”
But was the week a major game-changer for the presidential race?
There still are 30 days and two more Romney-Obama debates until Election Day. But initial post-debate polling shows definite movement in Mr. Romney’s direction.
A Rasmussen national survey out at week’s end shows a shift from Obama 49-47 to Romney 49-47.
“This is a small shift that’s significant in a close race,” pollster Scott Rasmussen told the New York Post. “Both candidates have a stable base, and the race is close. Barring something that happens in the real world, it’s likely to remain close.”
“Bounces are called bounces because they don’t last forever,” Mr. Rasmussen says. “We don’t know if this will disappear, or if they will build on it, or what other news will do to the race.”
The latest Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll shows President Obama's lead dropping from five points (48-43) to just two points (46-44). In Gallup’s daily tracking poll, Romney picked up two points, putting him within three points of Obama (46-49). The RealClearPolitics polling average (as of Saturday) has Obama ahead by just 1.4 points.
State polls are instructive as well.
In Wisconsin, the Public Policy Polling organization finds “a big debate bump for Mitt Romney.” Two weeks ago he trailed Obama by 7 points there, 52-45. Now he's pulled to within two points, with Obama's lead now just 49-47.
“Romney's image has seen significant improvement over the last couple weeks with 49 percent of voters now expressing a positive opinion of him to 48 percent with a negative one,” PPP reported Saturday. “That's up a net 8 points from a 44-51 spread on our last poll.”
Although Obama hung on to his 9-point lead among independent voters in Wisconsin, according to PPP, there's also been “a big uptick in Republican enthusiasm about the election.”
But there was good news for Romney in Colorado as well: 38 percent of likely voters said their impression of Romney is improving, while just 18 percent felt the same way about Obama.
“Two important lessons from the polls are, first, there are very few undecided voters left in Colorado, and second, Gov. Romney has improved his position to win them over in the closing days of the race,” said University of Denver political scientist Peter Hanson. “President Obama is maintaining a narrow lead in the state, but the major question is how much movement we can expect in the polls in coming weeks with not many voters left for the candidates to persuade.”
Presidential elections are won and lost in the Electoral College, and the RealClearPolitics map shows Obama ahead of Romney 251-181 with 106 toss-ups. (It takes 270 electoral votes to win.)
Statistician and poll-watcher Nate Silver, who writes the FiveThirtyEight blog for the New York Times, gives Romney about a 20 percent chance of winning the Electoral College. Still, that’s up from 15 percent before last Wednesday’s debate.
“Mr. Romney’s gains in the polls have been sharp enough that he should continue to advance in the FiveThirtyEight forecast if he can maintain his numbers over the next couple of days,” Mr. Silver writes. “In a good number of the polls, Mr. Romney has not only improved his own standing but also taken voters away from Mr. Obama’s column, suggesting that he has peeled off some of Mr. Obama’s softer support in addition to gaining ground among undecided voters.”