So much for the theory that debates don’t really move the polls.
A bounce for Republican Mitt Romney has emerged pretty clearly in poll results released this week, in the wake of last Wednesday’ debate with President Barack Obama. The poll that got the most attention in the last 24 hours was one from the highly respected Pew Research Center, which showed Mr. Romney swinging dramatically from an eight-point deficit in mid-September to a four-point lead—49% to 45%–now among likely voters.
[More from WSJ.com: California's Gas Price Expected to Ease]
Among all registered voters—not merely those considered likely to vote—Pew showed a tied race.
But the Pew survey wasn’t the only one that showed movement in Mr. Romney’s direction. Gallup’s tracking poll showed the race moving into a tie among registered voters, in its first three days of polling after the debate. In the three days before the debate, President Obama held a five-point edge.
There was similar positive movement for Mr. Romney in some battleground states. A Detroit Free Press poll showed the Obama lead among likely Michigan voters trimmed to three percentage points, 48% to 45%, down from 10 points last month.
A Susquehanna poll of Pennsylvania in the three days after the debate showed Mr. Obama’s lead a narrow two points, 47% to 45%, among likely voters, similar to results the polling firm found before the debate. But among those most interested in voting, Mr. Romney had a one-point advantage.
[More from WSJ.com: What Your Breath Reveals]
In perhaps the best news for Mr. Romney in the survey, Pennsylvania voters now are more likely to have a favorable rather than an unfavorable image of him personally, by a 48% to 42% margin, marking his first clear move into positive territory on that reading.
And a Rasmussen Reports poll showed Mr. Obama with a one-point lead in the swing state of Colorado, 49% to 48%.
So, what do such results mean?
First, of course, they don’t prove anything except that Mr. Romney did himself more good than did the president in the first of three debates the two will hold. The race remains what it was, which is close. The Republican nominee seems to have earned himself a second look from voters who might have dismissed his chances had the debate gone the other way.
The race is moving in the same range it has been in, with both candidates in the upper 40% of likely voters. The bottom line: The debate seems to have stopped movement by the president, which seemed to be taking shape before the debate, into polling above the magic 50% line with any consistency.
Two other repercussions: The movement means people are tuned into the debates, which, along with the apparent closeness of the race, may translate into more big audiences for the debates to come, starting with Thursday night’s vice presidential debate.
[More from WSJ.com: Big Brother, Now at the Mall]
And, as today’s Capital Journal column indicates, a race that now seems destined to be close to the end places a higher premium on the machinery each campaign has built to bring its core supporters out to vote on Election Day. Having support in the polls doesn’t matter, of course, unless those supporters actually become voters on Election Day.
For Mr. Obama, the keys in that regard are young voters and Hispanics. And for Mr. Romney, it’s core conservatives and evangelicals.
More from WSJ.com: