The president's edge on the question of who won the debate appears to be the result of his much better than expected performance and his advantage on likeability. But the poll also indicates that debate watchers said Romney would do a better job on economic issues. And the two candidates were tied on an important measure - whether the showdown would affect how the debate watchers will vote. Nearly half said the debate did not make them more likely to vote for either candidate, with the other half evenly divided between both men.The return of likeability! I'd say the first point there is the most important one. Obama, having done badly in the first debate, faced a specific need to do better than he had in the first. In that view, he could win by beating his first-debate self, and the comparison to Romney is secondary. Romney's goal was only to be good again. He actually did have a difficult project: being the same while facing an opponent who was sure to be different. But different in what way?
The poll shows that 70% thought Romney did better (37%) or the same (33%) as they expected, so Romney met what I imagine was his real goal. Obama also clearly met his goal, as 90% thought he did better (73%) or the same (16%) as they expected. Everyone's a winner.
But, good lord, it was nasty! What a strange world we live in where men of the highest stature make the center of a town hall meeting feel like like a boxing ring. They paced around each other, poking pointy fingers. Were you listening to what they said or wondering aloud whether they'd come to blows?
By a 49%-35% margin, debate watchers thought that Obama spent more time attacking his opponent.Is attacking bad or good? I think it hurts you with people who don't like tension and unpleasantness, but Obama's supporters beat him over the head with the demand that he fight. I thought Romney did a great job of maintaining a calm but dominant presence in that fight, at least until he got rattled by that "act of terror" confusion.
ADDED: Wow! What a Freudian slip in the title! I had just posted about Chelsea Clinton, but jeez!
IN THE COMMENTS: Bob Ellison said: "It could be argued, though, that Clinton won the debate...."
That reminds me of a crazy old game I used to play with my sons when they were kids. It was called "What if you had to argue?" I'd come up with some strange statement and the challenge was to come up with the arguments they'd make if they had to argue that. What if you had to argue that Bill Clinton won the debate?