The only focus group you really needed to get the gist of how this debate turned out was the circus on MSNBC after it ended. The anchors ranged from morose to unhinged. But what about the rest of America? I flagged a few nuggets from the network's insta-polls last night, but let's circle back, shall we? First up is CNN, which polled 430 American adults (not likely, or even registered, voters) with a D+4 sample. So the deck was somewhat stacked to begin with. And yet:
- 67 percent said Romney won the debate, 25 percent said the same of Obama; among independents it was 75-17 (!)
- 82 percent said Romney performed better than they'd expected, 61 percent said Obama fell short of expectations.
- Mitt Romney's favorable rating jumped to 56 percent.
- Romney led on every issue polled: The economy by 12 points, healthcare by five, taxes by nine, and the deficit by 16.
- Asked who would be the stronger leader, Mitt won 58-37; that's a 21-point lead over the sitting president.
- Romney even won the "likeability" head-to-head, albeit by a single point.
- By a 2-to-1 margin, voters said the debate made them more likely to vote for Romney than vice versa.
Next we have CBS News, which only polled undecided voters -- 523 of them, to be precise:
- Romney won, and it wasn't close: 46/22.
- Asked if the debate improved respondents' impressions of the candidates, 56 percent said this was true of Romney. Just 13 percent said the same of Obama.
- On issues: Romney +21 on the economy, +37 (!) on the deficit, +5 on taxes, +1 on energy. Obama maintained a small lead on Medicare, though Romney gained ten points on that issue overnight.
- The percentage of undecideds who said they were now voting for Romney increased by 12 percent. Obama flat-lined.
- Prior to the debate, these undecideds were asked if Romney (1) understands the needs of people like you, (2) has strong leadership qualities, (3) has made clear what he'd do if elected. They were asked the exact same questions after the debate. Here are the percentages of undecided voters answering "yes," pre/post debate: (1) 30/63. (2) 59/78. (3) 22/54. That first one is huge.
Last but not least, here is Frank Luntz's focus group of undecided voters. This video requires no set-up, just watch:
"Up until tonight, I think Obama had defined Romney. Tonight Romney defined himself."
"Everyone said Obama was flat. Well, it's really hard to defend a failed record like he has."
Check out the show of hands at the 5:20 mark. This is what happens when the media paints one man as a great orator and the other as a gaffetastic, out-of-touch buffoon. Those perceptions conflict so starkly with reality that people are shocked when the filter is lifted. For once, the media's Obama boosterism actually hurt him. Whether this resounding win will give Romney much of a lasting boost in the polls remains to be seen, but as a snapshot in time, it's very gratifying for conservatives to see a Republican meticulously and relentlessly prosecute the case against this president -- and do it so effectively that everyone has no choice but to recognize and acknowledge what happened. Simply put, last night's outcome was un-spinnable.