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.