WASHINGTON -- After three presidential debates and much handwringing, Americans have declared the debate season featuring President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney a tie, according to polling released Thursday by USA Today/Gallup.
Obama had a resounding finish in Monday night's foreign policy debate, which 56 percent of viewers thought he won, while a third preferred Romney, according to the poll. That, along with Obama's strong performance in the second debate, helped him recover from the first debate, which viewers overwhelmingly said Romney won.
Unlike debate night snap polls, the Gallup surveys were taken up to two days after the debates -- enough time for viewers to have their opinions changed by post-debate analysis and media coverage. The results, however, are generally similar to the instant reaction polls, which also found the third debate to be Obama's strongest.
Democrats nearly universally declared Obama victorious in the third debate, with 95 percent naming him the winner. A smaller majority -- 70 percent -- of Republicans said Romney did better. Independents favored Obama over Romney, 56 percent to 27 percent.
Looking at the three debates overall, Americans split on who fared better, giving a narrow edge to Romney. He was considered the winner by 46 percent of adults, while 44 percent said Obama won.
"What we find in our research is that debates don't work in a cumulative fashion in a sense of adding up the pluses and minuses per candidate per debate," the University of Missouri's Mitchell McKinney told USA Today. "On several levels, the first debate really has the greatest effect; it's the first impression. That's the first time we see them together, and we size them up in terms of comparison shopping."
The USA Today/Gallup poll surveyed 1,033 adults, including 746 debate watchers, by phone from Oct. 23 to Oct. 24. The poll has a 4 percent margin of error.