10/24/2012 12:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Were the Key Takeaways from the October 22nd Presidential Debate?

This question originally appeared on Quora.
By Will Wister, political data gatherer

Polls indicate that Obama won the debate.

A CNN/ORC International poll of people who watched the debate showed 48% favored Obama compared to 40% for Romney, a result considered statistically even under the margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.5%. Another poll by CBS scored it a clear victory for Obama. ... The poll also reinforced a gender gap in the race, with women favoring Obama as a strong leader by 59%-39%, while men chose Romney by 53% to 43%.[1]

PPP's post debate poll in the swing states, conducted on behalf of Americans United for Change, finds that Barack Obama was the big winner in tonight's face off. 53% of those surveyed in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin think Obama was the winner to 42% who pick Romney. Obama's winning margin among critical independent voters was even larger than his overall win, with 55% of them picking him as the winner to 40% for Romney.[2]


Romney, despite losing, came out with 38% of voters now saying they're more likely to vote for him to 35% who say they're less likely to for a +3 positive spread. Obama just came out even better with 37% of voters saying they're more likely to vote for him to 31% who are less likely to for a +6 spread.[2]

Interestingly Obama only came out of the debate as the candidate trusted more on foreign policy by a 51/47 margin, much closer than his overall victory in the face off. That suggests the points Obama scored on 'off topic' issues might have been more important than anything he said about foreign policy.[2]

Romney was perceived by some to have "played it safe" in the debate in an effort to appear Presidential.[3] Romney agreed with Obama on a number of policy issues. Romney wanted to seem like someone who liked peace, as opposed to someone who would start an unnecessary war. The strategy there was likely to make this race about the economy and thus play to Romney's perceived strengths.

  • Romney agreed that it was better to first pursue non-military options when dealing with Syria.
  • He agreed that troops would be out of Afghanistan by 2014, which is a change from some of his previous statements.[23]

Obama was "on the attack." He made an effort to take a lot of shots at Romney at every opportunity. He likely also prepared some zingers for the debate.

  • Obama accused Romney of being "all over the map" with respect to his past foreign policy positions. He had specifics like "You said that, first, we should not have a timeline in Afghanistan. Then you said we should." Romney had in the past criticized the withdrawal date. At one point, the Obama administration did want to leave a residual force in Iraq[25], but Iraqi's refused to grant immunity to those troops, so he decided against it.[23]
  • Obama said, "I know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy - every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong."
  • Romney said that he wanted a larger navy, because the US has fewer ships than it did in 1917. Obama responded "Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines, and so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships, it's what are our capabilities."
  • When talking about Iran, Obama said, "while we were coordinating an international coalition to make sure these sanctions were effective, you were still invested in a Chinese state oil company that was doing business with the Iranian oil sector." This may or may not have been fair, given that a lot of Romney's investing activities take place via a trust that is managed by advisers and Romney is not allowed to influence the investment decisions of those advisers.
  • Republican strategists have commented that these attacks represent a defensive maneuver from a candidate who is not in as strong a position as he might like.
  • Romney seemed to suggest the attacks were in poor taste and served as distractions, saying things like "attacking me is not an agenda."
  • Obama may have scored with these attacks, but they may have reduced his likability.
  • Rachel Maddow, a prominent liberal, called the battleship attack "patronizing."
  • The battleships line may also hurt Obama in Virginia, where some of the largest shipbuilding companies are based.[15]
There was a scuffle over Russia.
  • Obama said "I'm glad that you recognize that Al Qaeda is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al Qaeda. The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back."[4]
  • Romney had said that nuclear Iran was the greatest threat.
  • Romney later went on CNN and said that Russia had opposed various US initiatives at the UN and had supported rogue nations too much, and thus was a big geopolitical counterweight. This is consistent with his previous depiction of Russia as the major geopolitical threat.

Romney said that Obama went on an "apology tour."

  • He said, "The president began what I have called an apology tour, of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness. ... Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And by the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations. And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations, and on Arabic TV, you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators."[5]
  • The apology tour claims are based partly on a speech Obama gave to the French, in which he said that America "has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" toward Europe.[6]
  • There are other components to the apology tour thesis in Latin America, he said the U.S. had not "pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors" because we "failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas."[6]
  • Obama made a speech in Egypt in which he said "recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam."[23]
  • This may not be a direct "apology," so fact checkers have a field day with this, but it still puts down the US, which can be viewed as similar to an apology.
  • Obama did not dispute claims that he had not visited Israel on that particular trip and instead shot back with an attack of his own "the first trip we took was to visit our troops, and when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn't take donors, I didn't go to fundraisers."

Romney accused Obama of being weak on defense and weak with respect to advancing US interests. He said Obama caved to threats and provided insufficient support for Israel. Some of Romney's key quotes on this and context are below:

  • "I'm not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin. And I'm certainly not going to say to him, I'll give you more flexibility after the election. After the election, he'll get more backbone." This refers to a situation where Obama was caught on mic making promises to give Russia things it may want after the election. The implication is that he might be perceived as soft on defense if he did those things prior to the election.[7]
  • "the president said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel, that they noticed that as well." That statement refers to statement he made at a meeting that was closed to the press, but which had multiple sources who talked about that meeting to the press.[8]
  • "the President received a letter from thirty eight Democrat senators saying the tensions with Israel were a real problem. They asked him, please repair the tension - Democrat senators - please repair the tension..." Here is some detail on that letter.[9]
  • "We've got to strengthen our military long-term. We don't know what the world is going to throw at us down the road. We - we make decisions today in the military that - that will confront challenges we can't imagine. In the 2000 debates, there was no mention of terrorism, for instance. And a year later, 9/11 happened. So, we have to make decisions based upon uncertainty, and that means a strong military. I will not cut our military budget."
  • "We've always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we're changing to one conflict."
  • "I think also that pulling our missile defense program out of Poland in the way we did was also unfortunate in terms of, if you will, disrupting the relationship in some ways that existed between us." Some leaders in Poland have complained about this pullout.[12]
  • "Our Navy is old - excuse me, our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now at under 285. We're headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That's unacceptable to me." These numbers could be based on a Heritage Foundation report. "According to this study in 1916 the U.S. Navy had 245 ships. From that date on until 2003 the Navy maintained more than 300 ships in the fleet. The number of ships in the fleet fell to its lowest point in 2006 when there were 278 ships in the fleet. Since then the number of ships has increased to the current 285." The 313 number is based on a 2005 review. The new estimate by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is 500 ships.[14][15] So while the numbers may be slightly off, Romney's point still stands.
  • The thrust of some of these comments are that military equipment is old and may need updating. There is some support for this idea. "Air Force planes, on average, are the oldest in the history of that branch of the armed forces, which was founded in 1947, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank with close ties to the Pentagon."[17]

Romney attacked Obama from the left.

  • He said things like, "we can't kill our way out of this mess" suggesting that more must be done to help nations so that they don't become havens for terrorists. This type of support for nations was described by some CNN panelists as attacking from the left.

Romney said he thought that Ahmadinejad should be "indicted under the Genocide Convention" because "his words amount to genocide incitation."

  • "The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, drafted after the Holocaust, calls for punishment against "direct and public incitement" to commit genocide, along with the act itself."[18]
  • He could be tried under "such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction."[19]

Both candidates veered off topic to talk about the economy, trade, and education.

  • Romney said that students got top scores in science and math, but Obama claimed that was due to policies enacted before he became governor. Indeed, a lot of it was due to a 1993 reform law that "included the groundwork for the state accountability system (later called Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS), authorized charter schools and invested more money in local school districts. Its universal goal was to raise educational standards for all Massachusetts kids."[20]
  • Romney also praised the program that allows students who graduated in the top quarter of their class to get "a four-year tuition- free ride at any Massachusetts public institution of higher learning." This program was passed in 2004, and Romney was one of its sponsors.
  • Romney mentioned that states should manage Medicaid. "States like Arizona, Rhode Island have taken these - these Medicaid dollars; have shown they can run these programs more cost-effectively. I want to do those two things and get this - get this to a balanced budget with eight - eight to ten years." Some conservative think tanks have praised pilot programs that use experimental strategies, including financial incentives for healthy behavior and managed care to reduce costs. "During its five years of operations, Florida's Medicaid Reform Pilot has been a decided success. It has improved the health of enrolled patients, achieved high patient satisfaction, and kept cost increases below average, saving Florida up to $161 million annually. Since then, Florida has passed its Statewide Reform, which promises to extend these benefits throughout the state, build on the lessons learned from the pilot program, and save up to $1.9 billion annually. If Florida's Medicaid Reform Pilot experience were replicated nationwide, Medicaid patient satisfaction would soar, health outcomes would improve, and Medicaid programs could save up to $91 billion annually."[22]
  • There was a scuffle in which Obama implied that Romney would have Detroit's car companies liquidate, which Romney denied, saying, "That's the height of silliness." In his famous op-ed, he claimed that he wanted Detroit to go through bankruptcy before receiving government aid, but in any event, his goal was to avoid liquidation. He said "The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk."[21] In other words, he wanted to avoid liquidation, but ensure costs were cut enough; "their huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands must be eliminated. That means new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors like BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers. That extra burden is estimated to be more than $2,000 per car. Think what that means: Ford, for example, needs to cut $2,000 worth of features and quality out of its Taurus to compete with Toyota's Avalon."[21]
  • Obama criticized Romney's ability to generate jobs: "Now that's estimated to create 800,000 jobs, the problem is they won't be here, they'll be in places like China." That's a reference to a study by Reed College professor, Kimberly Clausing, who has contributed to the Obama campaign.[16] In theory, lowering US corporate taxes should make businesses want to have more of their operations in the US.
  • Romney said he would label China a currency manipulator on day one. He said China needed to "play by the rules" with respect to intellectual property.

Romney took a few cheap shots. Here are his quotes, with context.

  • "there were dissidents in the streets of Tehran, a Green Revolution, holding signs saying, is America with us, the President was silent. I think they noticed that as well." That's a little misleading. The President was not silent on the green revolution. He said in June 2009, "I think it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we've seen on the television over the last few days. ... we do believe that the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected."[10] Still, it's possible Obama could have done more to help insurgents.
  • "The secretary of defense called these trillion dollars of cuts to our military devastating. It's not my term, it's the president's own secretary of defense called these trillion dollars of cuts to our military devastating." That's a little misleading because they are automatic defense cuts agreed to by a previous administration.[11]

Obama said that Romney wanted to ask Pakistan for permission to kill Bin Laden.

  • Obama said in August 2007, "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."[23]
  • Romney said in response, "I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours. ... I don't think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort."[23]
  • Democrats have interpreted that as a claim that Romney wanted to ask for permission.[23]
  • A few days later, Romney clarified his position publicly at the Iowa debate, "It's wrong for a person running for the president of the United States to get on TV and say, "We're going to go into your country unilaterally." Of course, America always maintains our option to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America. But we don't go out and say, "Ladies and gentlemen of Germany, if ever there was a problem in your country, we didn't think you were doing the right thing, we reserve the right to come in and get them out." We don't say those things. We keep our options quiet. We do not go out and say to a nation which is working with us, where we have collaborated and they are our friend and we're trying to support Musharraf and strengthen him and his nation, that instead that we intend to go in there and potentially bring out a unilateral attack."[24]
  • So this claim by Obama can be viewed as misleading.

Romney got his geography wrong with respect to Syria. He said, "Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea." Syria and Iran don't share a border, and Iran borders the Persian Gulf, and so has plenty of coastline.

Going forward, Obama has a slight lead, so it's a close race. Many believe the race will hinge on Ohio.

According to the latest polls, Obama has a slight lead in Ohio. Romney is ahead in Florida, and Virginia is a dead heat.[1]

Obama leads Romney 50 percent to 45 percent in the Quinnipiac poll, a five-point lead that is down from a 10-point lead in the state last month. The poll was conducted Oct. 17-20, in the wake of the second presidential debate.

The Suffolk poll, also conducted after the second debate, actually shows Romney up a point when including leaners, 48 percent to 47 percent.[26]


[2] http://www.publicpolicypolling.c...



[5] http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn...




[9] http://www.informationclearingho...






[15] http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn...












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