First Presidential Debate Often Helps Challenger In Polls

From Nate Silver at The New York Times:

Conventional wisdom holds that the first presidential debate offers an especially good opportunity for the challenging candidate, who for the first time gets to stand on a literal public stage, and a proverbial level playing field, with the incumbent president.

As much as we like to debunk the conventional wisdom at FiveThirtyEight, this hypothesis has the ring of empirical truth to it. There are no guarantees for Mitt Romney, and if he makes gains in the polls following Wednesday night’s debate in Denver, they will probably be fairly modest. But if historical precedent is any guide, he is more likely than not to see his standing improve at least some.

This analysis will be quite simple: I’ve made a comparison of the polls just before and just after the presidential debate in years dating back to 1976.

[O]n average, the challenging-party candidate gained a net of one and a half percentage points on the incumbent-party candidate.

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Analysis & Political Strategy