This graph presents the pre-debate and post-debate trends in polls conducted during the 2004 election. RCP does not report whether the data represent registered voters or only likely voters for that year, so I have had to include both types of polls in the chart above. The change in the campaign’s trajectory after the September 30th, 2004, first debate was dramatic. Mr. Kerry erased eight points from President Bush’s lead after that debate, and the President’s rapid gains in the polls that year came to an abrupt halt. After that debate, Mr. Kerry remained two points behind President Bush but could never close the gap between them. The campaign seemed to stagnate at this point.
Whether we might expect a similar pattern in 2012 cannot yet be determined. All we can tell at the moment is that Mr. Romney picked up almost as much ground (+6%) as Kerry did eight years ago (+8%). There is not yet enough data to tell whether the campaign will stagnate at the current small Romney lead, or whether the President might recover from the blow in the weeks ahead.