The debate as campaign reset: Not!

If the debate moved the needle, the polls aren’t showing it yet.

Gallup has a seven-day horserace tracking poll. For the past week, Obama has been at either 49 or 50, and Rommey at 44 or 45. This morning’s numbers are the first ones that reflect a day’s post-debate polling: Obama 50, Romney 44.

RAND also has a seven-day tracker, based on a panel: they accumulated a sample of 3500 voters in March and got them agree to respond by emails once a week (500 each day) as to their percentage probability of voting and their percentage probability of voting for their current favorite. The numbers reported yesterday (which I assume were mostly pre-debate) were good for Romney: he was up 0.6 and Obama down about the same amount. But today’s numbers (one-seventh post-debate) went the other way, Obama up 0.7, Romney down 0.8, for a seven-day average of Obama 49.9, Romney 44.

The online IPSOS poll has “pre-debate” and “post-debate” samples. Post-debate shows Obama holding steady at 48% among “likelies” while Romney picks up some from “undecided/don’t know” and “wouldn’t vote” to move from 38% to 43%. The debate seems to have pulled Romney above water (at least temporarily) on favorable/unfavorable.

Good night for Romney, bad night for Obama? Sure. Missed opportunity to put the android out of its misery? Probably. Game changer? I don’t think so.

Footnote Yes, the RAND approach builds in a bias because people willing to play the game will include fewer people who completely tune out of politics, and playing will tend to make the respondents more attentive to the campaign than they otherwise would have been. Since Romney’s crapola makes sense only if you don’t listen carefully (or simply filter everthing through Fox News bias) I’d expect the RAND electorate to be marginally more pro-Obama than it would have been without the intervention. But that doesn’t mean a really earth-shattering event would fail to show up in the trend.

Also note that the RAND results are equivalent to a “likely-voter” screen, with the enthusiasm gap (Romney supporters about five points more likely to actually vote than Obama supporters) already factored in.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

53 thoughts on “The debate as campaign reset: Not!”

  1. The debate was a stinker for Romney. He came across exactly as the fast-talking stinker salesman that he is. I’m not surprised that he “won”.

    Anyone that glib can “win” any given encounter.

    But a president needs to be able to make long-term wins for the country, which will often rule out short-term victories. And isn’t that what Obama’s known for? The long game.

    And Mitt? Well, yeah. The short game — the bust-out, the gotcha quote, the snake-oil pitch that seals the deal (then, quick, to the railroad station and the next hick town!) — is always his.

    He can have this one. Yes, Mitt, you are glib, fast, and fancy. Yes, Mitt. You “win.”

  2. Bill Clinton was “that glib” too, but he also had the facts, and usually the right, on his side.

    An election “debate” is not a meeting for rational discussion of policy alternatives. It’s a sales opportunity. O’Bama needs to learn some of Bill Clinton’s salesmanship secrets.

  3. I actually watched the debate and thought our president was arrogant and unprepared, as if they think the election is there’s. I saw Our president selling snake oil as he has done his entire term.

    America can’t take another 4 years of Obama. At least Romney knows what a business is and that they cannot continue to operate if they spend more than they bring in.

    Your just like the rest of the Obama lemmings, if he said jump off the cliff you and untold others would do it with out thought.

    1. ..”they [sic] cannot continue to operate if they spend more than they bring in.”
      How exactly did the USA win WWII? Balanced budgets?
      Romney has rejected the only concrete initiatives that actually address the sole driver of America’s long-rum fiscal problem, medical costs that rise faster than GDP. They can be found in ACA.

    2. Dear Dozer.

      The possessive third person pronoun is “Their” so in your phrase “as if they think the election is there’s [sic]” the final word should be spelled “theirs.” I know your candidate has trouble with arithmetic, but shouldn’t you be able to spell?

      1. He also messed up with “your” for “you’re.” He also messed up by shoaring his thoughts without (which incidentally is normally spelled as one word as opposed to two) that Obama was arrogant, unprepared or was selling snake-oil (as opposed to merely being unenthusiastic).

    3. To Romney, a business is an entity with a pension fund he can loot and distribute to his partners. Problem is that others caught on to that game and there aren’t any pension funds left for him to bust up, so he’s in a bit of a pickle.


    4. Brilliant satire, sir. Wonderful. Random mid-sentence capitalization, adverb/pronoun confusion, meaningless accusations, childishly simplistic ‘analysis,’ laughably stupid ad hominem. Kudos.

    5. You also point out one of the most serious knocks against Romney: he thinks he knows what a business is (see Warren’s reply supra for an accurate assessment). Government is not a business. Businesses have an easy bottom line, governments do not have the easy bottom line.

      Governments are not supposed to be profitable, although that certainly hasn’t stopped Mitt and the rest of the plutocrats from exploiting our government for their profit.

      That by itself should be reason enough to think thrice before marking a ballot for Romney.

  4. Bill Clinton, wasn’t he the sitting president who was impeached for sex acts with interns? Why don’t people remember that.

    1. He also messed up by confusing “obstruction of justice and perjury” for “sex acts with [an] intern.” He also messed up by confusing “inters” for “an intern” (with Lewinsky being the intern with whose sex acts Clinton’s impeachment was mostly involved, although not directly). He also messes up by seeming to think it that a blog commenter cannot use the name “Clinton” twice in a single comment and not mention his impeachment, without inviting him to note that impeachment as if it were either at all forgotten or at all relevant.

      1. No, he was right — Clinton was impeached for sex acts with an intern, even though those acts weren’t illegal. Because the GOP has no concept of the rule of law or the legitimacy of any election they didn’t win.

        1. No, they have a clear view of the legitimacy of any election they didn’t win: it was an invalid election. But you’re spot-on that they are clueless about the rule of law.

    2. He also messed up by not making his Clinton comment a reply to the comment that mentioned Clinton. He also messed up by not putting a question mark on his seond question within the comment to which I am replying. He also messed up by forgetting to explain why he allows inane resentments and delusions of creativity to dominate his mind.

    3. Because his term of office was so f*cking good, compared to the GOP years afterwards. Dozer.

    4. Oh, yes: I remember the tawdry display of impeachment for consensual sex.

      Because the millions they spent on other fiascos didn’t work, but these clowns wore everyone down with their cheap ploys.

      Ignore my reply if I was reeled in by an Internet Performance Artist.

  5. I agree with Betsy – Romney talked loud and fast, recited laundry lists, and argued with the moderator.
    That schtick seems to impress the pundits, but I didn’t think it was going to do anything to help
    him with the groups he needs to win over: women, minorities, low-information undecided voters.
    Promising to fire Big Bird, and talking about offshore tax breaks, was off target.

    And Obama, in a mostly low-key performance, actually had several of the best lines “his big bold idea is –
    never mind” and “why is he keeping his plans secret ? is it because they’re too good ?”.

    For sure, Obama wasn’t on top form. But I think both of them did what they needed to do:
    Romney needed to do something flashy to keep his big donors on board; Obama needed to get
    through it without any gaffes or obnoxious behavior, and flush out Romney’s policy agenda
    (or the great vacuum where it should be). They were talking in different ways to different

  6. Heavens! Dozer, an echte low-information voter (L-IV) has materialized among us! Let us seize this opportunity to study it! Mr./Ms. L-IV, do you know what “interest” on borrowed money is? May I ask, how much does the U.S. pays in interest to its creditors? Let’s start our exploration of the L-IV phenomenon here. To be continued…

    1. Any errors in conventional placement are less significant and more obscure than either errors in question mark placement, errors in grade-school spelling (obviously not due to typos), or nonsensical reasoning.

      1. “Errors in conventional comma placement.” This was an error that is like a typo and so does not amount to grade-school illiteracy. Similarly, I will acknowledge that I was too hasty in my criticisms of “Dozer” for not replying directly to the comment to which he was responding, although in Daemon’s case Dozer had already commented twice, which was not the case with Ken Rhodes when Dozer was replying to him. Details. Details. I am too mean. Romney was enthusiastic and moderate, as opposed to ranting about how they didn’t have Medicare in the eighteenth century (although that only calls into further question Romney’s consistency and trustworthiness).

  7. “At least Romney knows what a business is and that they cannot continue to operate if they spend more than they bring in.”

    1) Many businesses do “spend more than they bring in” – they borrow money
    to make investments which will – they hope – yield future profits.
    Though calculations of “profit” tend to involve rather arbitrary judgments
    about valuations of various assets (which was how we had a bunch of banks
    claiming enormous “profit”s through 2005-2007, and yet at the end of it
    they many were effectively bankrupt, because their assets didn’t have the
    value shown on the balance sheet.

    2) The USA absolutely can “spend more than it brings in”. Where do you think
    dollar bills come from ? The government prints them. It can print more.
    Or it can choose to raise taxes whenever it wants: that makes it extremely
    different from a business – if you’re running a coffee shop, and you’re
    losing money, you can’t say “I can fix this, I’ll just charge $4 instead
    of $3 for a latte” – because people will go elsewhere. But the government
    can put up taxes, a lot, with little fear that people will emigrate.

    3) The right way to judge this is to look at the debt/GDP ratio. And that’s
    just the way a business would look at it: if you can borrow money to make
    an investment which increases future GDP, that’s a good thing to do.
    And a consequence of this is that it’s perfectly fine for the debt to
    keep increasing (i.e. to run a deficit every year) as long as the rate of
    growth of debt is lower than the rate of growth of GDP.

    But we should also bear in mind that government is not just about managing
    money, but also about reducing human misery. Money is only a means to that

    1. “And a consequence of this is that it’s perfectly fine for the debt to
      keep increasing (i.e. to run a deficit every year) as long as the rate of
      growth of debt is lower than the rate of growth of GDP.”

      Indeed. But it’s not, is it? Debt has been growing faster than GDP, on average, since the 80’s, (The only exception being a few years during Clinton’s administration, where partisan gridlock and an economic bubble drove spending and revenue temporarily in opposite directions.) and is now approaching a level we previously have only sustained for a few years during existential emergencies such as WWII.

      Which is to say, the theoretical case for borrowing to invest might be mathematically sound, but has little relevance to the sort of spending the federal government has been doing for the last generation or so, which has apparently consisted of anything BUT productive investments.

      And we should also bear in mind that managing money isn’t just about money, it’s about not reducing human misery today at the cost of dramatically increasing it tomorrow.

      1. Correct, Brett. I wonder what policies caused the debt to start growing ?
        Big taxcuts and increases in military spending – first under Reagan,
        then under GW Bush. And what policies does Romney propose ? Big taxcut
        (roughly $4.8T over 10 years); increased military spending ($2T over
        10 years); and stopping subsidies to NPR (rounding error). Also
        repealing the ACA, which would increase the deficit. So if you’re worried
        about the deficit, clearly you’re voting for Obama, right ?

        You’re also correct about the distinction between wasteful spending and
        productive investment. Military spending is a particularly egregious
        in that respect. Bush got us into an expensive mess in Iraq; Romney
        appears to be willing to risk an even worse mess in Iran.

        1. We’re partially in agreement; Military spending is a big part of it, our insistence on a military which isn’t just capable of defending us, but the whole world. And I’m hoping that, at the very least, Romney will only engage in wars Congress has authorized… Probably won’t have any interest in paying companies to build electric sports cars in Finland, either, but that’s small potatoes by comparison.

          But ACA repeal costing money? You do realize that the CBO score the ACA got was due to designing it to kick in the savings immediately, and delay the costly parts of the implementation until later? So we were looking at a decade of savings, and only 6 years of expenses? True, you can get as good a CBO score as you want, by writing into the law assumptions the CBO is legally required to base it’s analysis on, but saving money by keeping the ACA? Not very likely.

          I’d say the root cause, however, is simply this: From a politician’s perspective, taxes are bad, they annoy voters. Spending is good. Consequently, anything that relaxes the social opprobrium of deficit spending is going to result in deficits, and “investment” doesn’t even begin to enter into the matter, except as a rationalization. The last generation has seen a collapse of this nation’s cultural aversion to indebtedness, which took away the constraint that kept politicians from buying today’s votes with tomorrow’s money. At first the resulting deficits were shocking, then people started to get used to them, so they got bigger, the pushback having declined. Politicians will pretty much always run as big of deficits as they can politically afford, for these reasons.

          The only ray of hope in this respect is that the housing collapse and associated difficulties have created a generation who have a very negative view of debt due to personal experience. For all the spin telling them not to do this, they generalize this hostility to debt to the government. This is starting to restore the restraint on deficit spending.

          1. Romney has been sounding very bellicose. Obama hasn’t started any
            wars (though I wish he would really stop the existing ones).

            On ACA, over 10 years it cut the deficit. Beyond that, well yeah,
            it costs money – but it also gets 10’s of millions of people
            insured. That’s a bargain. And in the long run, the employer-
            subsidized health insurance system is massively distorting the
            economy: plenty of people who might consider starting their own
            business are stopped by the huge risk of losing health insurance.
            I myself work for a huge company in part because a merely-big ($1B/year)
            company had health insurance that left me paying thousands a year
            out-of-pocket. The system is broken; ACA is a big improvement;
            and Republicans have not proposed anything remotely plausible
            as an alternative.

            I can agree with much of your discussion of debt, but you miss the
            big point that when Democrats had power, they passed, and followed,
            PAYGO rules. We were just fine in 2000; then we got Bush’s huge
            taxcuts, a massive increase in defense spending, and Medicare part D.
            So actually, no, “politicians” don’t inevitably run deficits –
            Clinton, as political as they come, didn’t – the big deficit-raising
            measures of the last 20 years have all come from Republicans; and
            Romney’s huge taxcut is another example, if we fall for it.

          2. “Obama hasn’t started any wars”

            What, Libya is down the memory hole already?

      2. I’m not sure “partisan gridlock” is an accurate description of a tax increase on the higher brackets passed without a single Republican vote. I mean, certainly the partisan conflict didn’t help its passage, but by definition its passage was not “gridlock”

        1. Thank you, Warren. I really hate that wingnut meme about how gridlock in the 90’s was the source of Clinton era deficit reduction. How about giving ol’ Al a little credit for casting the tie-breaking vote in the Senate to get the modest tax increase passed? Oh, and this was *before* the ’94 debacle that brought Newtie to the Speaker’s chair — in other words *before* the famous gridlock.

        2. Yes. And remember the cries from the right about how that tax increase spelled The End of Civilization As We Know It. Didn’t happen.

  8. No, Mark, not a game changer, but probably not so insignificant as suggested by the numbers you cite. Intrade has the probability of re-election dropping from 74 percent on October 3 to 66 percent on October 4.

    1. I would think that people placing bets on InTrade are roughly the same demographic as pundits –
      fairly well-off middle-aged males who follow political news closely. Romney aimed at that
      group, and I guess hit his mark. But both in demeanor and (lack of) substance, he did nothing
      that would appeal to women, young voters, and minorities. So he did nothing to dent Obama’s
      huge lead in those demographics. InTrade is not the electorate (and there’s money to be made
      from arbitraging that difference).

      1. Well, to women, he came off as even more off a glib horse’s ass than we have seen so far.

        To southerners, the rhythm of that northern high-intensity sales patter is grating to the nerves.

        To anyone not already convinced by his snake oil pitchery, the value of this performance –and it was exactly that, a near-perfect stage performance – will be extremely limited, if ithasvalue at all.

        Romney went off the stage grinning to himself, as he did after his Benghazi remarks fiasco.
        That sly smirk is his self-satisfied tell; it means he thinks he’s made the sale.

        His core talent is making the sale. Outcomes, preludes be damned; the moment of the pitch is all that matters to him.

        And that is what this debate will amount to for him and his campaign: a briefly glittering moment that disappears quickly into receding time.

  9. My reading of how Rand does their poll is as follows (from their website):.

    “Every day one seventh of the [3500] panel members receive an email inviting them to answer the three questions above within a week. So one seventh of the panel members always get an email on Monday, one seventh always on Tuesday, etc. In total about 3,500 panel members participate, so every day about 500 panel members get an email inviting them to “vote.”

    What this appears to means is that we are seeing only the results for October 4th (the day after the debate) from the 500 subjects who were pre-selected to respond that day. That’s what makes this poll so interesting. We’re getting a measure of the stability of voter opinion over time, i.e. how much environmental (and other) events are influencing voter choice. Thus, the results for October 4 appear to suggest that despite the debate (or because of it) that voters strengthened their already existing preference for Obama over Romney.

    1. But based on your quote, it looks to me like they have a week to answer. So potentially the entire panel answered after the debate, or maybe none of them did. Next Wednesday will be the first time we can be sure all the responses are post-debate.

      1. alnval is correct. 500 respond each day. So we know that 1/7 of responses are post -debate. And the numbers aren’t moving toward Romney.

  10. In my own self-importance, both vicious and inane, I would like to announce, in an extra-special comment, that I thought Romney, despite certain inaccuracies and a total change of tone from earlier, did well enough in the debate because of his enthusiasm and moderation. I am skeptical about details, because under the U.S. Constitution, the President cannot just make the law. He or she (lololololol, he) has to work with Congress to make a deal which can be very different from whatever plan he proposed earlier.

  11. Tonight show zinger: You can vote for the guy who got Bin Laden or the guy who wants to get Big Bird.

    1. Killing Bin Laden cost money. Killing Big Bird would save money. I’m voting for the latter.

      The question isn’t whether PBS is nice, it is. The question is whether one day less of pledge drives each year is borrow money from the Chinese nice. I don’t think so. Let PBS go from getting most of their funding from private sources, to getting all of it. The world won’t end.

      1. how about we decrease the dod budget by one day’s worth of spending, triple the funding for pbs, and book the remainder as savings? it would work out to about the same number of dollars as eliminating the current subsidy for pbs.

      2. Killing Bin Laden cost money. Killing Big Bird would save money. I’m voting for the latter.

        Wouldn’t a less well-educated populace actually cost more money?

        Of course it would, but it would be easier to control by authoritarians and despots. Always strange why they want such an arrangement in place of democracy, innit?

      3. Why wasn’t the question whether tax cuts for billionaires have been borrow money from the Chinese nice? This guy is going on about borrowing money from the Chinese and he absolutely, positively refuses to countenance any increases in revenue, yet thinks picayune spending cuts like eliminating the CPB are the way to solve the problem.

      4. The guy who borrowed from the Chinese to fight a trillion-dollar war was George W. Bush.

        And you voted for him, and his wars. Not only that, you agreed to fight the war on borrowed money by agreeing to lower taxes on the wealthiest.

        Now you want more of the same.

        1. I’m confused: Did this guy stop waging any of those wars? Not wage any new wars, (Excuse me, “kinetic military actions”) of his own?

          As far as I can tell, the only real difference here is that, unlike Bush, Obama doesn’t think he needs Congress’ permission to wage a war.

          Oh, I guess there’s another difference: Liberals want to make excuses for Obama, and are fine with attacking Bush. So they stopped caring about the casualties and expense of the wars the moment it was Obama waging them.

          1. Strawman, Brett. “Liberals” like myself oppose the continuing military presence
            in Afghanistan and Iraq. I said so upthread. And no, the Libyan intervention is
            not at all in the same class as Afghanistan and Iraq. If you’d asked me about
            the Libyan venture beforehand, I probably would have opposed it. Looking at it
            now, it seems fairly successful in achieving its objectives, so it looks like a case
            where Obama was smarter than me.

            The right wing of the Democratic party – probably 1/3 of the party, but disappointingly
            influential over both military and economic policy, because they can team up with the
            almost-uniformly hawkish Republicans – behaves as you say. And I wish they wouldn’t.

          2. Yes, actually.

            If you cannot tell the difference between invading a nasty but quiescent dictatorship “all in” with massive military might on specious gounds of “weapons of mass destruction”, and lending arms and limited air support to a successful internal revolution against a repressive regime, then you are so blinded by partisanship as to be past saving.

            Of we care about American casualties in Libya. We are overjoyed to say there were 0.

          3. You may oppose it, in much the same way conservatives opposed Bush’s excesses, (That is to say, with an implicit “but…”) but how can you blame the debt on Bush’s wars, when Obama has continued them? At this point they’re Obama’s wars, the spending on them Obama’s war spending.

            This isn’t emergency deficit spending we’re seeing, it’s not “investment”, its nothing but spending tomorrow’s money today because you don’t want to live down to today’s money, and tomorrow can’t vote yet. We’ve gone, in the space of a year, from $100 billion deficits being normal, to $1 trillion plus deficits being the new normal. We’re spending over a trillion dollars we don’t have, every year, and we’re told we can’t cut spending ANYWHERE? Not even the pittance PBS gets? EVERYTHING is off limits?

            Trillion dollar deficits aren’t, even in the wild dreams of koolaid drunk economists, sustainable. This is the economic equivalent of pointing the car at a bridge abutment and nailing the gas pedal, we’re not talking disaster a generation hence at these levels, we’re talking disaster in just a few years.

            And we can’t even kick Big Bird off the dole?

          4. brett, i’ve been attacking obama for his continued reliance on drone strikes which are killing an increasing number of civilians as time goes by. would romney’s policies about drone strikes be any better? certainly not, given the foreign policy advisers he’s surrounded himself with. if you believe that you are allowed to tote up an internal scoreboard that allows you to support the lesser of the evils then i extend the same right to myself. i make no excuses for his policies i think are wrong or wrong-headed but at the end of the day i have to go with the choice that best reflects my beliefs just as you do the same for yourself.

          5. Brett, as you well know, the deficit has these major sources: the financial crash and ensuing recessionbrought on by republican de-regulation; bush’s unnecessary trillion-dollar war, which the current president had to clean up before he could end it, and which you well know a republican president would not have ended; republican obstructionism to limit needed stimulus spending; the bush tax cuts which went overwhelmingly to the rich; and runaway health care costs which drain the public fisc faster every month and which the president has begun to address in site of your party’s total intransigence in addressing the issue (other than to say “Granny, you’re on your own”).

            Now, at this point for you to go poor-mouthing our country that some poor kid has to give up her $24 a month in food stamp benefits, when you know very well your whole goalies to strangle government anyway,is just beneath contempt. As well as unpatriotic.

    1. 1) On Obama’s wars: the question is not who’s to to blame for the current
      excessive – and IMO largely futile – military spending; but which of the
      two candidates is going to be better over the next four years. Romney is
      explicitly promising an extra $2T over 10 years in military spending
      (at this level, calling it “defense” is a bit dishonest …) – and he has
      surrounded himself with neocon advisers and seems inclined to act
      aggressively. Being disappointed with Obama’s record, as I am, doesn’t blind
      me to the difference between Bush and Obama, and between Obama and Romney.

      2) On Big Bird: you think killing Big Bird will save money. In the short term,
      that’s true. In the long term, it isn’t. Sesame Street is teaching kids to read.
      That’s an enormously important investment, which almost certainly pays off
      in future productivity. Cutting government funding of literacy, and education
      in general, is penny-wise pound-foolish. As is letting bridges and highways
      and rail lines and the electricity grid decay until the bridges fall down and
      the grid fails. Businesses don’t make that mistake; government shouldn’t.
      And a time when we can borrow cheap, and hire people cheap, is the best
      time to make investments – even if you count it as “borrowing from the Chinese”.

      3) The big reason for trillion-dollar deficits is the recession. And the best way to
      end those deficits is to end the recession, which – counter-intuitively – can best
      be done by government spending to keep people productively employed. The New Deal
      worked. And the austerity policies currently being applied in UK and Europe just
      don’t work, even on their own terms. The UK government cut spending, and the result
      was a double-dip recession and even larger deficits. First, spend whatever it takes
      to fill the demand gap and get the economy back on track; then, raise taxes modestly –
      as in the 1990’s – to reduce the deficit.

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