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October 17, 2012 11:05 AM College Students on the 2nd Presidential Debate

By Dan Hopkins

I’ve been blogging about a project to measure college students’ debate reactions in real time, a project spearheaded by political scientists Amber Boydstun, Rebecca Glazier, Timothy Jurka, and Matthew Pietryka.  Last night, the team got reactions from 2,295 students, which is more than during the Vice Presidential debate but fewer than during the first Presidential debate.  51% of respondents were Democrats, while 31% were Republicans.  Of the respondents, 13% were Hispanic, while 10% were Asian American, 9% were African American, and 63% were non-Hispanic white.

As in the first debate, this Democratic-leaning sample agreed with President Obama more than it disagreed on every issue, with disagreement peaking on the question about what the President had done to earn a 2008 supporter’s 2012 vote.  Agreement with Governor Romney’s comments almost always outpaced disagreement, but by a thinner margin.  Disagreement is not especially mobilizing: overall, the students are more likely to take the time to register agreement than disagreement.

But whereas the first debate was defined by people who agreed with Obama proclaiming Romney the debate’s winner, the opposite was true last night.  On the question of who was perceived to have won, the answer was President Obama: 70% of students named Obama the winner, as compared to 22% for Governor Romney.  And although I would take these numbers with a grain of salt, 10% of the students indicated a changed vote choice over the course of the debate, with 68% moving to President Obama and 32% moving to Governor Romney.  As we would expect, a significant majority of these students started the night uncommitted.  Switches from Governor Romney to President Obama or vice versa were far less common.

The exchange about Libya proved a pivotal moment in multiple respects.  President Obama’s response was seen by the students as the biggest dodge of the evening, while moderator Candy Crowley drew positive responses for her interjection about the President’s Rose Garden comments. Governor Romney’s biggest dodge was thought to be on his response to the question about gun control.

[h/t to Amber Boydstun]

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Dan Hopkins is an assistant professor of government at Georgetown University.