Why the Debate Has Legs

October 10, 2012 - 4:37 AM

The Twitterverse was all, well, a-twitter Monday afternoon when the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press released the result of its national poll that had been in the field post-debate.

The poll showed that among likely voters, Mitt Romney was leading Barack Obama by four percentage points: 49-45.

For the past 36 hours pundits, reporters, and analysts have been poring over the 39 page report, picking out the things that they have found most dramatic.

-- Nearly half of the people who identified themselves as "middle class" now see Romney's policies helping them. He is about even with Obama on that question.

-- By 55-44, voters agreed with the statement "Obama doesn't know how to turn the economy around."

-- Obama and Romney were tied among women at 47-47 in this poll. In Pew's September poll that number was Obama 56, Romney 38 +18. Among men Romney leads 51-43 (it was 48-46 in September).

The question I have been tinkering with since Monday is: Why does the debate appear to have had more impact on the race than the (relatively speaking) good jobs numbers that were released on Friday morning?

The conventional wisdom was that it was just bad luck for Romney that his momentum would be broken by the unemployment figures dropping below eight percent.

SIDEBAR

Please don't email me and tell me that the U-6 number (unchanged at 14.7%) is a better measure of employment because it includes those who are underemployed - working part-time but don't consider themselves as fully participating in the workforce; as well as "marginally attached" workers - those who want to work, but have given up the search and are not, therefore, counted.

We are comparing apples to apples, not apples to pomegranates.

END SIDEBAR

That effect -- stopping the Romney momentum -- has not expressed itself in the polling, at least thus far.

The reason is, I believe, the debate was an actual look at the two candidates. One did very well. The other stunk out the joint. The unemployment figures are … the unemployment figures.

There has been a long-held theory that in Presidential election cycles, voters take the economy as they find it in August with them into the polling booth. Changes in September and October are too late to affect the thinking of most voters.

The debate has had more impact on the polling figures because it was directly in the control of the candidates. I have had a long-held theory that the reason "mistakes" on a resume - lies - are such a big deal is because your resume is absolutely within your control.

If, on your resume, you claim to have won the Nobel Prize for Physics and you … haven't … no one will believe you when you say it just slipped through and your staff didn't catch it.

What they know is: You lied about it 20 years ago when nobody knew you or cared about you; and now that you are running for U.S. Senate or are under consideration to be the CEO of a major corporation, you got caught.

Another problem with the unemployment figure is: There is no other data to support a three-tenths drop in the rate. I am not saying that the Bureau of Labor Statistics cooked the books, I am saying there is nothing else in the economy that supports that kind of improvement.

On MSNBC Saturday, I was asked about claims of skullduggery at BLS. I said the last successful secret kept in Washington was the Manhattan Project. If people at BLS were involved in a conspiracy, someone would have, by now, called a reporter to claim credit.

Who knows if the post-debate polling is a permanent shift in the way voters view the two candidates or whether it's a temporary spike in support for Romney.

But, the debate has certainly turned this race upside-down. Obama has two more debates to fix the impression left among a huge majority of the 68 million people who watched the first one: He just didn't care enough to prepare.

The Vice Presidential candidates have a go on Thursday night. I'm pretty sure no one in the Obama camp thinks it's just swell that they are now depending on Joe Biden to right the ship.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to the Pew Research web page and the entire poll, also a Mullfoto from beautiful Vermont.