The CNN/ORC International survey indicates 46% of debate watches say Obama won the debate, while 39% say Romney fared better. The seven-point margin falls within the poll's sampling error.
Meanwhile, 73% said Obama did better than expected, compared to 37% who said the same about Romney.
Moments following the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., 37 percent of voters polled said the president won, 30 percent awarded the victory to Romney, and 33 percent called it a tie. After some particularly animated exchanges between the two candidates, 55 percent of voters said Mr. Obama gave direct answers, but 49 percent also said that about Romney.
As for who would do a better job of handling the economy, the president made some headway on closing that gap. Before the debate, 71 percent said they believed Romney would, while only 27 percent said they thought Obama would; after the debate, 34 percent said the president would better handle the economy, with 65 percent saying Romney would.
Obama would also be more likely to help the middle class, according to 56 percent of voters after the debate, compared with 43 percent who said that about Romney.