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US elections opinion polls shift after first debate; Romney and Obama clash on Middle East policy

Updated On: Oct 09, 2012

Following the first presidential debate that lifted Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s standing in the polls, Mr. Romney has called for a “change of course” in the Middle East. But President Barack Obama warned that the US “cannot afford to go back to a foreign policy that gets us into wars with no plan to end them”.

Presidential Debates

3 October marked the first face-to-face debate between the candidates, which focused on the US economy. After recent polls showed him slipping in all the crucial swing states, many media commentators declared Mr. Romney the winner of the debate, which has increased his standing in opinion polls.

An instant poll of registered voters by the television channel CNN found that 67% thought Mr Romney had won, against only 25% for Mr Obama. In addition, post-debate interviews with 1,201 voters found that the debate had lifted Romney’s standing among a wide range of voter groups. His overall personal image improved, with the percentage of voters holding a favourable opinion of the Republican nominee up 5 points since last month.

According to some commentators, Mr. Romney was conversational, engaged and engaging, with a commanding performance. The president, however, seemed professorial, ponderous and listless, unable to defend his own re-election.

Mr. Romney acknowledged the need for effective regulation of Wall Street and other markets, for public investment in education and vowed that he would not support any tax cut that increased deficits.

As Mr. Obama defended his record and denounced the legacy of the Bush administration, Mr. Romney sounded disbelieving. He reminded his opponent of broken promises to halve the deficit and stated: “You’ve been president four years!”

At the same time, Mr Romney also failed to provide clear answers and made false claims. This included explaining how he would keep his pledge to lower tax rates across the board while avoiding adding to the deficit and regressive changes to the tax code that would hit the middle classes.

He also repeated false claims about Mr Obama cutting hundreds of billions from Medicare programs for the elderly.

Two more presidential debates are still to come, with issues addressing domestic and foreign policy. With the vice presidential debate also taking place this week, the pressure is on for Democratic incumbent, Joe Biden, to lift Democrats after a disappointing week and Republican challenger, Paul Ryan, to build on Mitt Romney's momentum.

Report: Mitt Romney turns his fortunes around [The Economist, 6 Oct 2012]

Report: Post-debate polling shows substantial Romney bounce [The Chicago Tribune, 8 Oct 2012]

Mitt Romney’s foreign policy

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has called for a "change of course" in the Middle East, criticising US President Obama on foreign policy. Mr. Romney accused Mr. Obama of mishandling the tumult in the Arab world, leaving the nation exposed to a terrorist attack in Libya.

In a speech he gave at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, Mr Romney declared that “hope is not a strategy” for dealing with the rise of Islamist governments in the Middle East or an Iran threatening to build a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Romney’s argues that he would take the United States back to an earlier era, one that would result, as his young foreign policy director, Alex Wong, told reporters on Sunday, in “the restoration of a strategy that served us well for 70 years.”

Moreover, Mr. Romney claims he would put Iran "on notice" over its nuclear plans, and called for arms to go to Syrian rebels.

However, with four weeks to go before the election, polls show Mr. Obama still retains a foreign policy lead over his rival.

Mr. Obama hit out at Mr. Romney on Tuesday, warning that America did not need another president who started wars with no plan to end them.

"Governor Romney said it was tragic to end the war in Iraq. I disagree. I think bringing our troops home to their families was the right thing to do," Mr. Obama told a 15,000-strong crowd in Columbus, Ohio.

If he'd gotten his way, those troops would still be there. In his speech yesterday, he doubled down on that belief. He said ending that war was a mistake."

"Ohio, you can't turn a page on the failed policies of the past if you're promising to repeat them.

"We cannot afford to go back to a foreign policy that gets us into wars with no plan to end them. We're moving forward, not going back," Mr. Obama said.

Report:  Mitt Romney: US foreign policy 'must change course'  [BBC News, 8 Oct 2012]

Report: Romney Strives to Stand Apart in Global Policy [The New York Times, 8 Oct 2012]

Report: Obama slams Romney on Iraq [Channel NewsAsia (AFP), 10 Oct 2012]