One day after the second debate, and the results are in — everyone thinks Barack Obama won it, or at least fought Mitt Romney to a draw. Instant polling after the event also gave Obama the win, with the CNN poll showing a seven-point edge over Romney: 46% to 39%.

It’s worth noting there’s a 4% error margin on that poll — but it’s also worth noting the sample was 33/33/33% Republicans/Democrats/independents, where the Republicans are actually only about 24% of the general population. So, to use a technical statistical term, eeeeh y’know.

The figures are also borne out by the qualitative analysis, with most pundits in the Mitt moshpit known as the National Review scoring it a draw, and the Left pundits who were tearing their hair out at Obama’s initial performance have come back to suckle at the teat.

Andrew Sullivan, ex-conservative and continuing doofus, was best: having previously dubbed Obama the “black Reagan”, he declared the election lost after the first debate, now returned, practically weeping, saying it was the “Obama I always knew”.

Well, maybe. Your correspondent, perhaps on a pessimistic jag, judged the debate a sort of win for Romney, which garnered a few hits from the peanut gallery. And when you look at the event in clips, with Romney’s various turns — cross-questioning Obama like a motel cleaner suspected of stealing his cufflinks, Obama saying that Romney’s five-point plan was a “one-point plan”, moderator Candy Crowley correcting Romney as to whether Obama had spoken of a “terror attack” the day after the Benghazi attack and, last but not least, Romney’s bizarre remark that people brought him “binders of women” to choose amongst in staffing his Massachusetts executive — there were no real clips showing Obama in a similar light. So that counts as a win.

But these are all victories on the pundit principle, of performance and besting. It’s not necessarily the way people watch the debate, especially those clowns (sorry, citizens) who are yet to make up their mind, between two substantially different ethical and political approaches to the organisation of society.

There, I thought, and still think, that Romney won the debate for the simple reason that Obama lost it. Though the President took the fight to Romney right from the top, he failed to follow through — coming back to his own record. Yet Obama’s own record only passes muster by reference to what would have happened had he not done what he had. The only thing that the middling American recovery looks good beside is the potential depression, unemployment spike and auto industry collapse that would have occurred — or can be argued would have occurred — had the Republicans got their mitts on the big House again.

That’s arguing a counterfactual, and difficult to do, but essential. The great example of that is Paul Keating’s 1993 victory over John Hewson, in which the prime minister stooped to jam it up the opposition leader’s freckle. The spectacle of the Blade Runner style blasted earth that would be implemented days after Hewson landed in the Lodge was sufficient to drive a grumbling populace back to Papa.

Obama hasn’t swung that, and there’s no chance he will really try. In the absence of such, Romney’s economic plan — ze plan, ze plan — continues to impress people. The polls bear this out. A CBS poll had Romney rated as better on the economy: 65% to 34%. That’s a major lead in the area where people will be listening very carefully. In that respect, I suspect there will be no major bounce back to Obama on the basis of his overall win.

Mind you, one poll had Obama winning by 51% to 17% among undecided voters. The poll in question was taken by, erm, Xbox, via a survey on Xbox Live’s “election channel”. Say what? No, me neither. But the Italian plumber vote is sewn up, blah blah, other sad lapsed cultural references, signs off, opens beer, sigh.

Peter Fray

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