WASHINGTON -- Instant reaction polls after the third and final presidential debate showed a strong performance for President Barack Obama, following a resounding Romney victory in the first debate and a small victory for the president in the second.
A CNN poll of registered voters who watched the debate found that 48 percent said Obama won and 40 percent said Romney did.
Debate watchers in the CNN poll were more likely to say Obama outperformed expectations than Romney did, perhaps reflecting expectations based on Obama's poor performance in the first debate. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said Obama performed better than expected, 15 percent worse than expected, and 23 percent said he performed the same as expected. Romney outperformed the expectations of fewer respondents: 44 percent said he did better, 26 percent worse, and 26 percent the same as they expected.
CNN's survey found Obama and Romney scoring similarly on whether respondents thought they could handle the job of commander in chief. Respondents said that Romney could handle the job by a 60 percent to 38 percent margin, and that Obama could by a 63 percent to 36 percent margin. Obama scored better when respondents were asked to rate which candidate would be a stronger leader, 51 percent to 46 percent.
The CNN poll found little impact on the vote intentions among respondents, 24 percent of whom said they were more likely to vote for Obama and 25 percent for Romney. Debate watchers are less likely to be undecided voters and more likely to have already been paying close attention to the race, compared with voters overall.
CNN surveyed registered voters who had participated in an earlier CNN poll, said they watched the debate, and had agreed to be re-interviewed for the post-debate poll. The margin of error of the poll is 4.5 percentage points. CNN had not yet reported the sample size of the survey, but did note that the sample leaned somewhat more Republican than its usual polls.
Uncommitted voters in a CBS poll gave Obama a clear victory in the third round, with 53 percent saying he won the debate, while 23 percent said Romney won and 24 percent said it was a tie. In the first debate, 46 percent of uncommitted voters told CBS that Romney won.
CBS reported on the air that only about 11 percent of likely voters qualify as uncommitted voters in its screening. That suggests that in spite of a clear victory among those voters, neither Obama nor Romney have much room to move voters at this point in the campaign.
Uncommitted voters' trust in both candidates on foreign policy improved during the debate. The percentage believing Romney could handle an international crisis rose three percentage points, from 46 percent pre-debate to 49 percent post-debate. Obama saw a far more dramatic jump, from 58 percent to 71 percent.
Voters also said Obama would do a better job on terrorism, by a 64 percent to 36 percent margin. The two men were equally trusted on China, with 50 percent of uncommitted voters favoring each to deal with the country.
Before the debate, 24 percent said they leaned to Obama and 20 percent to Romney, with 54 percent completely undecided. After the debate, 46 percent said they would support Obama, 32 percent Romney and 19 percent were undecided.
The CBS News post-debate poll was conducted using the GfK KnowledgePanel, a representative Internet panel, among 521 uncommitted voters who watched the debate. The survey's margin of error is four percentage points. Uncommitted voters in the CBS poll include those who were either totally undecided before the debate or who were leaning to a candidate, but said they may still change their minds.
A poll of 500 swing state debate watchers, conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling for Americans United for Change, also declared the debate a win for Obama. Fifty-three percent of voters said he did a better job, while 42 percent said Romney did.
Opinions largely followed party lines -- nine out of 10 Democrats thought the president won and 81 percent of Republicans thought Romney won, with independents splitting 55 percent for Obama and 40 percent for Romney.
Post-debate, 51 percent of the swing state debate watchers said they trusted Obama more on foreign policy, while 47 percent preferred Romney.
The PPP poll surveyed voters in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Foreign policy has been a public opinion strong point for Obama throughout his presidency, and to the extent that this debate makes a difference it's likely to be in shoring up Obama's strength after a potentially weak stretch during which news coverage focused on the aftermath of the consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya. HuffPost currently estimates Obama's approval on foreign policy at 50 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval.
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