How the first presidential debate delivered victory to Obama

It was conventional wisdom among the commentators that the United States election result would be close, and that the Republican candidate and presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, won the first debate.

With the advantage of hindsight we can see that the facts don’t back up that claim. That debate set the scene for a record turnout of women and young people, who resented the older-male media analyses, and in doing so delivered a massive 303 to 206 win for the incumbent, President Barrack Obama. The victory was a bad day* for the large-scale capital investors who poured millions of dollars into negative and very personal campaign ads that simply failed to deliver.

The success of Obama in Tuesday’s election victory, especially his victory in the swing states, can be directly attributed to strong voter registration and turnout at the polls as a result of community development strategies that have drawn on the legacy of Saul Alinsky (the American community organiser and generally considered to be the founder of modern community organising, and author of Rules for Radicals.)

Obama won a second four-year term thanks in large part to a strong voter turnout from the same Democratic coalition that helped first elect him the first time – women, minorities and young people. 

President Obama won the key state of Ohio, one of the hardest-fought battlegrounds in 2012, by two percentage points. In that state, the share of black voters between 2008 and 2012 went from 11% to 15%, and 97% of all black voters in Ohio voted for Obama, according to exit reports.

Those who favour aggressive negativity in place of evidence – like media baron Rupert Murdoch’s troop of troubadours – decided that the softer, quiet approach taken by the President would fail, and deliver the Republicans control of the White House and both houses of parliament.

But a special study conducted by Roy Morgan Research (the Morgan Reactor) takes a closer look at 16 different audiences for that first debate. When the results are broken down into those constituencies that went out for Obama, it can be seen that the media attention to the mass polls was a Romney beat-up.

Every time that Romney came out with his negative attacks against his opponent, the Morgan Reactor shows that his support collapsed. Every time that Obama set out his positive agenda for change, the Morgan Reactor headed for the stratosphere.

Each of these separate voting segments watched the debate, and they followed up the issues raised in the remaining weeks of the campaign.

Let’s just take the constituency for the central “we’ll cut Obamacare down on the day after the election” theme.  Within days of the debate, the healthcare lobby had come back against Romney’s record, checking the blizzard of “facts” quoted in the debate, and finding them wanting.

Or take Romney’s pro-oil lobby statement :“In one year, you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world. Now, I like green energy as well, but that’s about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives.”

Incensed environmental campaigners pulled apart the figures, pointed out the president’s that $90 billion was not “tax breaks” but a combination of loans, loan guarantees and grants through the stimulus program, and they were spread out over several years rather than one, as Romney claimed. 

The point it that each separate audience sector was much more interested in the content and the context than the conflict that was the centrepiece of pro-Romney rhetoric.

(Over the next year in Australia, as we head to our own federal election, we will see a similar effort to get the facts behind the three-line slogans and a demand from separate constituencies for policy-rich debates.)


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