This suggests something very interesting in Republican-leaning women this election cycle, and it is not easily fixed at this point.
My theory below . . . .
First, this will work so much better if you insert the phrase: "this is a statistical average based on focus group polling for [gender] [ethnicity] [race] [age] in socio-economic group/education level and not a general statement about [category]. Nor is it a biological imperative, or a class imperative, but, at this moment in time, seems to hold true on average for this particular identifiable demographic."
There is a wonderful paragraph in Heinlien's "Year of the Jackpot" that sums it up. "No way on earth to tell when a particular man is going to die, but an absolute certainty that so many men of a certain age group would die before a certain date. The curves were so lovelyand they always worked out. Always. You didn't have to know why; you could predict with dead certainty and never know why. The equations worked; the curves were right."
What is of interest is that the swing back to the pre-convention numbers is nearly entirely from women in the swing states. They started trending Obama after the convention, really trending hard after 47%, and now have trended back to Romney.
Based on some long-trend focus groups and a few other items, I formulate the following theory.
1. For months, the media and advertising have framed the question for these voters as: "do you go with the nebbishy nerd who can't seem to do much or the tough CEO-dude who will throw you and your family under the bus if that's what it will take?"
2. Now "Madge" (as she is called in media training/focus group circles) is not stupid. Madge knows she can't trust either the advertising or the media. In fact, at this point, Madge doesn't really trust anything on the subject of politics (or she would have made up her mind). But in the absence of information, Madge uses what she has to confirm the framing and formulate an opinion.
3. Events around the convention and in September, particularly the 47% comment, helped solidify the image of Romney as a cold-hearted guy who will throw Madge and her family under the bus.
4. But then came the debate. The debate is the first opportunity to see the candidates unfiltered. So what does Madge see? Well, we have nebbishy nerdy guy. But Romney is not the cold-hearted arrogant dude she took him for. In fact, he seems perfectly reasonable. Sure, everyone else says that he said other contradictory stuff before. But remember, Madge knows the media lie and both campaigns lie. That's just how it is. So this is the only chance (other than the other two debates) for Madge to actually judge on her own.
So we revert back to the status quo ante-convention. It's not that Madge doesn't think Rush can be obnoxious and some Republicans can be pigs. Sure he is and they can be. But, lets face it, everyone has some obnoxious people in their crowd and, as far as Madge is concerned, all men are pigs. That's why we have Hooters. The shift to Obama was not actually about "women's issues" (if Madge cared about those, she'd already be a Democrat). It was about "who do I trust to actually look out for me and mine?"
If this is right, it suggests a number of things. (1) The new Romney ads focused on women and how Obama has basically failed to create jobs for women (but Romney will) is probably pretty good, and (2) Dem responses that focus on "women's issues" are probably less likely to be effective.
The Big Bird thing isn't bad, but it actually focuses on the wrong thing. If I were doing an ad based on that debate segment, it would show Romney's smiling face telling Jim Lehr how he likes him and wants to fire him. Then it would play the clip of Romney saying "I like to fire people." Then the narrator would say: "Romney says he wants to be our CEO President. When he was CEO at Bain [stats on downsizing). Do we want more corporate CEOs who smile and tell us they like us, then fire hard-working people who are doing their job? Or do we want a President who wants to grow this country for all of us?" Then cut to Romney again telling Lehr 'I like you but I'm gonna fire you.'
Anyway, my two cents. We'll see how this plays out.