Monday night was the final set piece of the 2012 election—the last scheduled event in which a significant national audience will tune in to develop or refine their impressions of the candidates. Barring any more secret tapes or raids on high-value terrorists, the remainder of the election is largely outside the candidates' control.
Instant polls of undecided voters after Monday night's debate by CBS, PPP and Xbox/YouGov all declared President Barack Obama the winner in the confrontation with former Gov. Mitt Romney. But the final debate has the smallest chance to make a difference in the election, and the president's performance failed to move the needle in his direction by more than a hair.
Sources: Betfair, Intrade, IEM, HuffPost Pollster and RealClearPolitics
We'll know in a few days how much "Monday Night Football," Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, and Anything-Else-but-a-Foreign-Policy-Lecture detracted from the TV audience Monday night. The Signal does not particularly care about this factor, because the final debate was always destined to have a small impact. Three reasons:
- There are not many undecided voters left. In most national polls, undecided voters account for 2 to 3 percent of potential voters. This is plenty enough to sway an election, but these 2 to 3 percent are typically not voters engaged enough to be watching debates.
- For a nation that just wound down a seven-year war, is still fighting an 11-year-war, and faces the prospect of further military intervention in the Middle East, foreign policy still ranks low on the concerns of most American voters.
- The implications of this debate have only two weeks to etch themselves into a campaign narrative that has narrowed in focus to only a few states.
All told, this election is probably over. We're just not allowed to open the envelope for another two weeks. Take it away, Ohio.
David Rothschild has a Ph.D. in applied economics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter @DavMicRot.