News & Politics

CNN Data Showing Big Romney Debate Victory Skewed Towards Older, White Voters

A CNN poll stating that 67 percent of voters thought Romney won the debate is turning heads.

Photo Credit: Katherine Welles /

Scroll down for an update to this story.

The instant polls that came out after the first presidential debate all gave Mitt Romney a clear victory.

As The New York Times’ Nate Silver notes, a “CBS News poll of undecided voters who watched the debate found 46 percent siding with Mr. Romney, 22 percent for Mr. Obama and 32 percent saying it was a tie.” The first instant poll conducted by Google found that Obama beat Romney in the debate, though a second poll the company did found the opposite.

But it was the poll conducted by CNN that has turned the most heads. The CNN poll “found Mr. Romney very clearly ahead, with 67 percent of registered voters saying he won the debate, against just 25 percent for President Obama.” Those numbers for Romney are far ahead of the marks he received in the CBS and Google polls.

Why is that? Well, the poll skewed towards a GOP-friendly demographic.

If you look at the CNN data, "one finds the poll’s respondents to be nearly all white, Southern and over 50," as AlterNet's Adele Stan notes. So much for the overwhelming Romney win.

A Daily Kos blogger reacts to the skewed CNN sample with incredulity: “According to the breakout, all the people surveyed are white, 50+, and from the South. Are they being serious with this? I know the media loves a horserace, and I'll admit Obama was less passionate and shouty than Mitt, but it's pretty hard not to ascribe a motive to their selection process.”

Older white voters from the South are far more likely to support Romney than Obama. As the National Journal noted earlier this year, “the modern GOP coalition revolves around white voters-and increasingly, as the graying baby boom moves right, older white voters.” So it’s no wonder that a demographic that is old, white and from the South would believe Romney won the debate handily.

It’s also worth noting that the debate performance of the candidates will likely not change the overall trajectory of the election. A Democracy Corps focus group of 45 swing voters in Denver--including 16 unmarried women--found that Mitt Romney performed well in the eyes of voters. Obama also impressed these voters, thought not to the same extent that Romney did.

With that being said, though, “the research does not suggest that Romney fundamentally changed the political calculus in this election.  For example, while Romney picked up some voters, he mostly consolidated undecided voters who leaned Republican—the former McCain voters who had not yet warmed up to the Republican nominee.  He did not cut into Obama’s weak support among voters in this group.”


Talking Points Memo does some reporting on the strange CNN poll, and they clear up some confusion:


Late Update: We’ve dug in a little deeper on this, and there seems to be a straightforward non-nefarious explanation. It appears that where the subgroups within CNN’s representative sample of 430 voters were too small to yield statistically valid conclusions about the subgroups themselves, CNN declined to publish those results simply because they were not reliable on their own. We’re seeking confirmation from CNN, but this is the most likely explanation — one that is valid. —dk

Later Update: CNN provided us with the internals of the poll, and the demographics of the poll respondents are very much line with normal standards for randomized sampling. —dk


Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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