Whether or not the fallout from last week's debate has actually hurt Clinton in the polls is still open to question. On the national level, CNN shows her lead down to 44%-25% from 51%-21%. Rasmussen also shows Clinton at her lowest levels in a month, although she showed no immediate post-debate decline. ABC News / WaPo is a third poll to show a Clinton decline, although about half of their poll was conducted before the debate. By contrast, Gallup shows no decline in Clinton's national lead, and neither does Newsweek, although it should be noted that the pre-debate Newsweek poll was conducted three months ago. Before the debate even took place, Fox and Zogby also showed a downward trend for Clinton, while Pew and Quinnipiac did not. Overall, that is a lot of caveats and contradictory information from which to try and draw a trend. About half of all national polls shows Clinton down, and about half do not. In fact, this was the case in the week immediately before the debate, too. The best guess right now is that Clinton's national numbers have dropped from the high forties to the mid-forties.
There is also a continuum between pre-debate and post-debate coverage of the campaign, one that suggests a connection between the polls showing a Clinton decline before the debate, and those showing one afterward. For the first three weeks of October, the press ran with the "Clinton is inevitable" narrative. However, at some point, they grew bored with that story, and picked up the "Clinton is going to get attacked" and "when will Clinton stumble" narratives. Obama's claim that he was going to attack Clinton more forcefully was, as Media Matters showed, all the rage in the three days leading up to the debate. Both the attacks and Clinton stumbles were expected. In short, Clinton is now down a bit because the press told everyone for several days that, because of the attacks, poor debate performance and by "playing the gender card," she should be down. And so, they can move on from the boring, played-out inevitability narrative.
I imagine most people reading this blog are either happy that Clinton is somewhat down, or at least not disappointed. However, they should be careful what they wish for. In this case, what appears to be a Clinton drop in the polls was largely fueled by the same media machine that, most of the time, happily reinforces Republican narratives as conventional wisdom. The lesson here, I think, is to remember that the corporate, established media is still very good at creating national convention wisdom as they see fit. While in this case that conventional wisdom might make many people in the netroots happy, most of the time it won't. It is still a powerful institution that Republicans and conservatives are better able to control than Democrats and progressives, and we shouldn't forget that. After the fact re-branding of debates remains of the biggest reasons George Bush is President instead of Al Gore, for example. Their after the fact coverage of Howard Dean's concession speech in Iowa, or General Petraeus's rosy portrayal of Iraq are even more gratuitous examples. Most of the time, it feels as though the conventional wisdom machine works against us, and even in instances where we might enjoy the conventional wisdom that is being created (and I admit that I enjoy it simply because a blowout campaign is a boring campaign), we shouldn't forget that.