President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney met at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York on Oct. 16 and again at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida on Oct. 22 for the final two presidential debates. While the New York debate was structured in a town hall format that allowed questions from the audience, topics at the Florida debate came from moderator Bob Scheiffer.
The debate at Hofstra, which Politico-a Washington, D.C. based news outlet-described as “one of the most combative presidential debates in recent memory,” did not have a specific topic and questions ranged from the economy to recent events in Libya. The New York Times noted that both campaigns were competing “for a shrinking sliver of undecided voters, many of them women,” and that both candidates “took pains to fashion their arguments towards female voters.”
On more than one occasion, Obama noted that Mitt Romney plans to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, and the president also touted the Lily Ledbetter Act, a bill signed by the president that fights pay discrimination based on gender. On the other hand, Politico said Romney’s answer on equal pay “was awkward-at best.” Mitt Romney noted that during his time in the private sector, he was given “binders full of women” from which to hire potential employees, and Politico reported “the potential for women’s voters to see the remark as offensive is quite real.”
The night was not without criticism, however, as CNN observed, “the most controversial moment of the night came when moderator Candy Crowley intervened” during an argument regarding Obama’s remarks on Libya. Romney was accusing Obama of failing to call the attacks on the American embassy in Banghazi, Libya acts of terrorism, while Obama was defending his statements and his policy in the Middle East. The Washington Post noted that one of Obama’s defining moments came during the Libya argument, but Politico also recognized that “Republicans have taken issue with the fact that moderator Candy Crowley gave Obama some backup.” However, Politico also emphasized that “Romney flubbed the Libya answer,” while Obama “took responsibility for what happened and looked presidential.”
Following the first debate in which his performance was described as “mystifyingly bad,” Obama “was the better performer” at the second debate, the Washington Post reported. A CNN poll found that 46 percent of viewers believed Obama had won the debate, compared to 39 percent for Romney. The same poll found that Romney had won the first debate by a 42 percentage-point margin, 67-25. Although he “wasn’t flawless and didn’t score as clean a win as Romney did in the first debate,” the Washington Post noted that Obama “moderated his tone to the sober/serious yet forceful persona he needed.” However, CNN noted that, following a “listless and lethargic” first debate, Obama “needed a convincing win” in New York, “and he did not get it.”
Obama continued his attacks into the final debate on foreign policy, and Politico noted that the president “set the caustic tone at the outset and dialed it up from there.” Romney, on the other hand, “took a cooler approach to the debate,” Politico reported, and he “delivered familiar criticisms in a level tone, rather than taking big risks with attacks aimed at the jugular.”
Although CNN acknowledged that Romney agreed with Obama on many points, the New York Times pointed out key differences between the two, including “Romney’s call to arm the rebels in Syria” and their differing opinions on Russia. The New York Times also noted key similarities between the two, including their strong allegiance to Israel, and Romney praised Obama on the assassination of Osama bin Laden.
Polls and polling data gathered following the final debate showed Obama leading over Romney with the undecided electorate. CNN’s poll showed that debate viewers favored Obama in the debate by 48 percent compared to Romney at 40 percent with the same viewers. Other polls placed Obama’s lead at a higher rate than CNN’s however, with Public Policy Polling showing Obama having won the debate over Romney at 53 percent compared to those who consider that Romney won the debate, which was 43 percent. CBS’s poll showed a similar trend, with Obama considered the winner of the debate by 53 percent, as opposed to those who consider Romney the winner at 23 percent.
In spite of the debate on foreign policy, Politico reported that “relatively few voters have named national security as their top priority this election.” However, as CNN noted, “a forceful Obama put Republican challenger Mitt Romney on the defensive,” giving the president “a solid victory” in the final debate. However, it should be kept in mind, as Nate Silver of the New York Times suggested, that these later debates have relatively little impact on the final electoral map. There are no more debates scheduled between now and the election on November 6.