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Did Giuliani Win the Debate?

Topics: 2008 , Debates , The 2008 Race

The only instant reaction survey done immediately after last night's MSNBC/Politco Republican debate came from automated polltaker SurveyUSA. Their release tells us, without equivocation, that Rudy Giuliani "convincingly won" the debate, because when asked, 30% of respondents picked him as the winner compared to 17% for McCain and single digits for other candidates. We linked to it, as did many other prominent blog sites. Mickey Kaus noticed, and asked a good question:

Most commentators I've seen or heard thought Rudy Giuliani did badly in Thursday night's debate (except my mother, who said he "makes a very good impression.") I didn't think Giuliani did well either. So how did he decisively win that Survey USA poll cited on The Corner? Part of the answer is that Survey USA polled only California debate watchers. A mere 45% of whom were Republican. 53% of whom were pro-choice. That's not the national Republican primary electorate.

No, it's not, but an even bigger issue is the fundamental weakness of "instant reaction" polls of this sort in judging winners and losers.

A more general problem with using a survey to declare a debate "winner" is agreeing on the criteria. What does it mean to "win?" Is it enough to make a "good impression," or is the winner the one who picks up the most new supporters? Is it about the impression made on those watching the entire debate or on the much larger numbers who catch snippets in the news coverage that follows? Is any coverage good coverage (think Gravel)? Do we only care about Republican primary voters and caucus goers, or is it still important to "win" a larger constituency. I could go on, but the various commentators seem to apply different criteria.

What SurveyUSA did was straightforward enough. They called a random sample of households in California last night, and asked those who answered the phone whether they watched the debate and, if so (13% said yes), asked who "won the debate?" It is hard to argue with their presentation of the results. Giuliani was certainly the runaway choice as "winner" among those who told SurveyUSA they watched it.

The problem with that approach, however, is that debates usually serve to reinforce existing impressions. If you tuned in to last night's debate feeling like a supporter of one of the candidates, the odds are pretty good that if pressed, you would say that your candidate won. If most of the California voters that watched the debate were already Giuliani supporters, then most will likely tell us that their candidate won.

To test which candidate changed the most minds, we really need to do what pollsters call a "panel-back" survey. They start with a very large random sample of all adults or voters (perhaps as many as 2000) and call several days before the debate to ask about vote preference and views of the candidates. Immediately after the debate, they call back and ask the same respondents (or as many as they can reach), who "won?" More important, they also repeat the same vote and favorable ratings questions asked during the first interview. Thus, with all the data in hand, the pollster can see which candidate (if any) was judged a "winner" most often by those who were initially undecided or supporting other candidates. They can easily see which candidates actually improved their standing as a result of the debate.

Both the Gallup Organization and CBS News take exactly that approach to polling around debates and presidential addresses, something I wrote about many times during the 2004 campaign (see especially this post).

Unfortunately, the SurveyUSA poll provides only a quick snapshot of the impressions among those who happened to be home in California last night, but we know nothing about how respondents felt about the candidates before the debate. However, we can at least compare the "who won" response among likely Republican primary voters to those interviewed by SurveyUSA and other pollsters in recent weeks, as in the following table:

05-04%20gop%20debate%20ca.png

First, notice that the percentage who judged Giuliani the winner is slightly smaller among likely Republican primary voters (30%, as above) than among all debate viewers (33%, omitted from table). But notice that the percentage judging Giuliani the winner is smaller than Giuliani's support in other recent polls by SurveyUSA (43%), the Mellman Group (36%), the Field Poll (36%) and PPIC (33%). Probably more important, 40% told SurveyUSA they thought Romney or one of the candidates other than Giuliani and McCain "won" the debate last night. That is much higher than the lower tier candidates received on the other recent surveys.

The comparison is far from conclusive. The sample sizes are all small, and we have no way of knowing whether the sample of self-described debate watchers was skewed to supporters of particular candidates. However, the data we have suggests that if anything, the real winners were probably the lower tier candidates who got a boost in exposure and recognition.

Also, put me down as skeptical that 13% of California's adult population watched the debate last night. After last weeks' Democratic debate, Nielsen reported that 2.26 million Americans watched the debate. If we assume those were mostly adults, it amounts to roughly one percent of the roughly 219 million adults in television households nationally. Perhaps this week's audience was bigger in California, but I doubt it was thirteen times bigger. The 13% number is more likely is a combination of three factors: Debate viewers were disproportionate among those who were (a) at home last night and (b) willing to complete the interview. Also, consider the potential for (c) measurement error -- some probably said they watched when then did not.

Typos corrected.

Update: Jay Leve, the founder and CEO of SurveyUSA, responds in the comments section.

SurveyUSA thanks Mark Blumenthal for his observations. SurveyUSA will use the "panel back" approach before and after the next nationally televised debate. Those who want to suggest other ways that SurveyUSA could improve speech-reaction and debate-reaction polls are invited to do so.

Leve is obviously reading, so if you have a suggestion, please leave a comment. And please bear with us if our software tells you your comment is "waiting for approval." We have not not changed our comment policy, but have been working on some site upgrades that are behaving strangely. We will try to approve any such comments promptly.

Update II (5/6): I had not seen it until just now, but TNR's John Judis used the SurveyUSA data noted the same way I did on Friday and reached a similar conclusion:

If one assumes that "who won" tabulations are going to roughly resemble voters preferences, any sharp divergence becomes significant. By that count, Romney was the clear winner last night.

 

Comments
DickieFlatts:

Go to the sources for the rightwing on the internet and they all give Rudy horrible marks. He is clearly not going to have the hard right and the fundies with him. Can he win without them? Not if a lot of the country club Republicans don't show up to vote in the primaries.

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Why was SUSA's GOP sample so much smaller than its sample for the SC Democratic debate? Here, there's a total of 143 people. The MOE has to be huge.

Rudy did very poorly in that debate; even on his strong issues he was spouting too many platitudes and not enough specifics about what he would do. The lack of preparation was glaring... I thought Romney was slimy, but nobody seems to be as cynical as I am, so overall Romney probably improved the most from his tiny base, while McCain probably did the best in absolute (total future vote gains) terms.

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Mark Blumenthal:

Alex,

Just to clarify: In California last night, SurveyUSA started with a sample of 2,400 adults, of whom 13% (or n=317) watched the debate. From their cross-tabs, I pulled the results for the 45% of debate watchers (approximately 143 interviews) that they label as Republican primary voters. The 95% confidence level margin of error for a simple random sample of that size is +/- 8%.

In South Carolina last week, they started with a sample of 1,250 adults of whom 32% (n=403) said they watched the debate. The crosstabs indicate that 52% of the debate watchers are likely Democratic primary voters.

So the big difference is that 32% of their SC sample reported watching the Democratic debate, while only 13% of the CA sample reported watching the Republicans. Perhaps the SC debate aired on local NBC affiliate stations? We checked and could find no sign that last night's GOP debate was televised on any local CA stations.

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Touche, sort of... but isn't it the number of debate-watchers that matters here? I.e. 403 watchers of the Democrats' debate and 143 for the GOP?

My parents don't have cable in St. Louis, MO, but they had no problem watching. Seems weird that a St. Louis NBC affiliate would air the debate and CA ones wouldn't.

These crosstabs are bizarre... it says there were more black than white debate watchers? In California? Are you serious?? 2.5x as many males as females...

... 32% of blacks said Rudy "altar boy" Giuliani won the debate compared to 2% for McCain?

Right ...

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Mark Blumenthal:

Alex:

I won't quarrel with your parents, nor claim to be the last word on what was or was not broadcast in California last night. We did a quick web search, found nothing -- but that's all.

What "matters here" is probably in the eye of the beholder, just make sure you're comparing apples to apples. SUSA had 403 debate watchers in SC, 317 debate watchers in CA. Slightly more than half of the SC debate watchers (52%; approx n=210) were Dem primary voters. Slightly less than half of the CA debate watchers (45%; approx. n=143) were Republican primary voters.

Now, as for the cross-tabs, are you reading the "composition of debate watchers" line at the bottom of the "who won the debate" question, which shows 51% white, 7% black?

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SurveyUSA thanks Mark Blumenthal for his observations. SurveyUSA will use the "panel back" approach before and after the next nationally televised debate. Those who want to suggest other ways that SurveyUSA could improve speech-reaction and debate-reaction polls are invited to do so. I do not know Mr. Forshaw, but to confirm: 72% of those in CA who watched the Republican debate 5/3/07 were male, 28% were female. In South Carolina, 57% of those who watched the Democratic debate were male, 43% female (and that debate featured a female canaidate). Note that in the SurveyUSA California GOP Primary poll cited by Blumenthal (not the post-debate poll, but the primary election poll), 63% of likely GOP voters in CA were male, compared to 42% of likely Democratic primary voters who were male.

Jay H Leve
Editor
SurveyUSA
Verona NJ

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Misread the crosstabs in re the racial composition... the gender gap in particular bulged out at me. It makes sense that the GOP one would be significantly more male; that it was that much more male surprised me.

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Jerry Skurnik:

Isn't 13% saying they watched the debate prima facie evidence the responders were lying? I strongly doubts that 13% of all people in California with phones watched the debate. What rating did it get?

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1.7 million households I think.

I think CA has about 37 million people... so that part seems about right.

Anywho, I think the collective perception that Rudy botched it outweighs whatever the aggregation of individual opinions was.

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Jerry Skurnik:

The 1.7 million households in the TV
ratings for the debate was the result
for the whole country, whuch is less than
1%.
This poll claims that 13% of
CALIFORNIANS who answered said they saw
the debate.

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Doug Merrill:

Why can't people just be honest after a debate. I'm a McCain supporter, but is obvious to almost everyone (including all of the TV commentators) that Mitt Romney was clearly the "star" of the debate. I still support McCain, but I must admit that I was very impressed by Romney and I'm starting to look more closely at his campaign.

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Joe Billiams:

Giuliani LOST the debate. Besides, all he is is a mass-murdering gangster punk. He should be decapitated and have his head placed in a urinal at the WTC for people to piss in his mouth.

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Paul Miller:

Rudy cannot try to Please EVERYONE and expect us to TRUST HIM!!! Have some convictions and stick to what you believe!

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decider911:

rudy did not win, being the loudest, and playing the "9/11" card yet again doesnt either.... nor his countless scare tactics of using the word "terror"...

restore the constitution, RON PAUL 2008

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Nicole Bishop:

America needs a real leader, Ron Paul for president!

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d.vanmeter:

Ron Paul is too honest and too real on the true reality, he believes in our right to OUR RIGHTS by wanting to restore Habeas Corpus, stop the illegal income taxes and is prolife in which as a doctor he has the most knowledge on abortions then these other canidates, those others whom have flip-flopped on their values on this sensitive matter. As well he has been against this never ending bloodbath we call a war, which we were falsely implicated into for the sole benefit of the current adminsitration. do the right thing for yourself and for your families and vote for Ron Paul.

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Giuliani fell flat on his face.

Ron Paul stole the show by putting Giuliani in his place on 9/11. The world doesn't hate us for no reason, they hate us because we bomb sovereign nations into radioactive slag heaps without them ever doing anything to us.

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Travis:

Ron Paul wins yet again! Got to thank Rudi for shining even more light on our last hope!
He's currently 67% on msnbc's polls!

Ron Paul 08 w00t!

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Gwen:

Rudy, Romney, McCain...they're all so obviously rehearsed. Don't let the media pick your president!

Ron Paul is the only TRUE republican.
He is the only candidate that supports the original idea of America & our founding fathers. He is the only candidate that values our freedom and constitution.
If you are a true patriot, if you really love this country and want to save it...you'll vote Ron Paul.

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George Dietrich:

Guiliani is not a winner...We have supplied almost every terrorist organization in the world...If someone in your family had nothing to do with an attack,yet was killed because of it wouldn't you be angry too?Add that by more than 650,000 killed in Iraq...Our govt. is creating more terrorists.Ron Paul is right,in his beliefs,after watching our govt. supply Bin Laden,Hussein and others with weapons of all types!RON PAUL and The CONSTITUTION!

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marc:

Ron Paul made a good point and Rudy used his only tool in this debate to discredit. How would we feel if China or other nations wanted to set up multiple millitary bases in and around our country?

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DeLynn:

Rudy Guilani is another Bush.

Ron Paul, yet again, OUTSHINED the competition!!

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Rudy Giuliani is a bought and paid for politician, as are all the rest, except for Ron Paul. Congressman Ron Paul believes in the traditional conservative values that made America great.

-Get out of Iraq
-Get rid of the IRS
-Get Rid of our dependence on the Federal -Reserve Bank
-No National ID
-No Torture
-Close the borders
-Follow the Constitution

Vote Ron Paul, 2008!

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stephen:

I think Ron Paul won. All the others seem to be reading off the same talking points.

Ron Paul stands for something new, or should I say old school.

He's Founding Father type material.

We need to learn our rights front to back, and what the goal of government ought to be according to the constitution.

We the people will wake up, and make a change!

God Bless~
Stephen Wilson

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J.S.:

No. Rudy Giuliani avoided the questions a lot, he never really backed up anything, I still don't see why this Liberalist pro-choice, pro Gay marriage Guy is running as a REPUBLICAN, even when he had the chance in the debate to say why he was running as a republican, he avoided the question.

I'd have to say Ron Paul was the victor of that debate and I hate how they didn't let Ron Paul defend himself after Giuliani challenged him.

Oh and that was just childish of Giuliani to ask Ron Paul to apologize in the first place.

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I truly loved the gentleman on the right, Ron Paul. We need some honest Republican thinking, and a return to our Constitutional principles that our republic was FOUNDED upon.

Not this hackery we see continuously ongoing with the others.

Ron Paul gets MY vote, 2008.
Unity, America!

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Frank M.:

Rudy is a loser. Ron Paul is a winner and won the May 15 debate.

I'm tired of people still calling Rudy a hero too. Read this http://www.firefightingnews.com/article-US.cfm?articleID=27125

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G,T:

There is no doubt that Ron Paul left Giuliani in the dust.

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Myk O'Conor:

Rudy is a shill, by using 9/11 as a platform in running for President.

As usual Ron Paul did a very good job. People want a breath of fresh air, not the same recycled "republican" rhetoric. He is for smaller government and has ALWAYS been against the war with IRAQ. He stands for the principles of the constitution. Its time the media lets him speak.

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Cameron Davis:

I think Ron Paul deserves serious consideration. All these other guys are corporate mouthpieces. Ron Paul believes in the Constitution and the fundamental rights of Man, like Thomas Paine, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson did.

Don't give up, Ron Paul! KEEP RUNNING.

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Ron paul has my vote!

Get out of Iraq
Get rid of the IRs
No National ID
No Torture
Close the borders
Follow the Constitution
THATS RON PAUL -no matter how the propaganda network fox news tries to smear him!

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c hughes:

Im for Ron Paul all the way. Hes the only honest person out there.

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Anonymous:

Ron Paul is the only REAL choice.
Let's keep up the support!

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Stephen :

Any polls where anyone in this country could cast a vot on the internet show Ron Paul either a clear winner or in the top 3. Giuliani won nothing, and as you state, the poll showing him as winning only had a small cross section of the nation represented.

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jake cameron:

Ron Paul. Giulliani is just another puppet.

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Steve:

Isn't it amazing that Ron Paul, a "2nd tier candidate" with next to no resources compared to the big 3, keeps managing to manipulate all these polls. MSNBC, ABCNEWS, DRUDGE, and now FOX NEWS. In the first debate he won two of them and finished 3rd in another, and he finished second in tonight's Fox News debate poll... only a couple points behind Romney.

Earlier tonight, Carl Cameron and the folks at Fox News, refusing to believe that "the people" might stray from a misguided party line, claimed that Ron Paul's "operatives" manipulated the poll.

Does anyone believe this nonsense? If it were possible to manipulate this information as easily as they make it sound, wouldn't the major candidates be pulling strings as well... or is it only Ron Paul's supporters? Given that Ron Paul has the most integrity and the soundest principles of any candidate in the rabble, it's sheer nonsense that Ron Paul's supporters are manipulating anything.

I used to like Fox News. Not anymore. Fox News and the mainstream networks can go straight to hell, along with the federal leviathan.

RON PAUL 2008--- BRING BACK LIBERTY, FEDERALISM & SELF-GOVERNMENT.

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michael c, peck:

Mainstream media has consistently downplayed Ron Pauls campaign as non player, if he got the coverage that Mitt Romney or McCain got he would be overwhelming in the polls, Oh! i forgot! he is anyways!stop manipulating the coverage of Ron Paul, let us choose who we want for a candidate Fox news,dont try to choose for us

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FSA:

RON PAUL TTT(TO THE TOP):
EVEN MY LIBERAL WIFE SAID "WOW, YOUR RIGHT. HE IS GOOD. I'LL VOTE FOR HIM) HE'S A TRUE PATRIOT!

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Steven:

Clearly Ron Paul's message is resonating with the public and the debates haven't even delved into the ecomony yet. I'm not a Rudy fan but I was dissapointed that he can't even acknowledge that blow back exists. That's self imposed ignorance.
Our country needs Ron Paul now as we are financially backrupt as a nation and play wasteful and destructive war games.

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Laurie:

Last night Mr. Giuliani showed that he is out of touch with how the world views American Foreign Policy. He also showed that he doesn't have a grasp on the current state of US Foreign Policy as it pertains to the Middle East. For the last 50 years we have manipulated their governments and forced our views down their throats. It is not a wonder that they eventually struck back, what is a wonder is that it took them so long.

While I do not agree completely with some of Mr. Paul's positions, I must say that in respect to Foreign Policy, he is 100% correct. While it may be hard for some to accept the awful truth that we as a nation are partially responsible for the attitude of the Islamic world. It is important that we look honestly at the problem, because until we do, there will never be any kind of peace between them and us.

I for one will now be taking a closer look at Mr. Paul and his stance on the issues. I was beginning to think that I would not be able to find a candidate that I could get behind. He may have just changed my mind.

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Ron Paul is the only guy who wants politicians to obey the law (the Constitution). That should be 'nuff said. But at least five of the other candidates are Nazis, and that should be an item of concern to us.
About Herr Giuliani's acting out against Dr. Paul:
Dr. Paul's answer was based on fact. Western countries invented Iraq in 1920 by assembling people who hated each other and forcing our will upon them. America forcibly changed regimes there...we installed Saddam, after all, and paid him to do what he did. We trained his enemies to become our enemies, and then we act surprised by the outcome?

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Ron Paul is the only guy who wants politicians to obey the law (the Constitution). That should be 'nuff said. But at least five of the other candidates are Nazis, and that should be an item of concern to us.
About Herr Giuliani's acting out against Dr. Paul:
Dr. Paul's answer was based on fact. Western countries invented Iraq in 1920 by assembling people who hated each other and forcing our will upon them. America forcibly changed regimes there...we installed Saddam, after all, and paid him to do what he did. We trained his enemies to become our enemies, and then we act surprised by the outcome?

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Mike Lynch:

I believe Ron Paul is the one that won last night's debate. He is what America needs if we expect to restore this once great Republic. He is for ridding ourselves of the parasites called the IRS and the Federal Reserve. Great job Congressman Paul!!!

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Mike Lynch:

I believe Ron Paul is the one that won last night's debate. He is what America needs if we expect to restore this once great Republic. He is for ridding ourselves of the parasites called the IRS and the Federal Reserve. Great job Congressman Paul!!!

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Randy Blandin:

I have to agree with the comments here - I thought Ron Paul did a fantastic job. I think he showed true courage. I think Rudy Guiliani should be ashamed of himself for trying to milk his part in 9/11 for political advantage. I don't see how being mayor of the city gives him any greater insight or authtority to talk about the root causes for the current geo political situation.

Go Ron Paul. You have my vote too.

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jumber:

Ron Paul was the clear winner of the debate. He is the only candidate that understands the issues.

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Unknown Origin:

Ron Paul definitely was the class of the field. Even on CSPAN call-in show almost every caller said Ron Paul did the best. It is sad that the media is pushing on us these scripted, cookie cutter republicans who really have nothing new or insightful to say.

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Guilani never read the 9/11 Commission Report apparently. Either that or the handpicked Republicrats on the commission are a bunch of conspiracy theorists.

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Chris:

Do Americans finally have a clear opportunity to restore this nations dignity with this Ron Paul guy? I hope so for my grandchildren and children's sake. I looked up this cats voting record and he is consistent and in addition he has had a real job as a doctor besides politics, apparently. Let's give him a fair shot people.

Chris

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CA_Voter:

Why list a Governor of NY in every synopsis?
Is there not more qualified candidates...
such as a Congressmen from Texas ?

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OKLA_Voter:

They say he's got no chance...
they say he won't pull the vote...
they say he's lost the mainstream media - apparently, they haven't heard of the internet. They can't silence us, it's time for the revolution.


Go Ron Paul 2008

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Martin:

"Always trust a man with two first names!"

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Ben:

Ron Paul is a STATESMAN. I have never been so excited about a candidate's message. Finally!

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Katelyn:

My favorite candidate is Ron Paul, but he needs to work on his public speaking. He's getting a little over emotional (understandable) and talking a little fast. Mitt Romney did the best job at public speaking and Giuliani did the best (with his jokes) at appealing to the crowd. McCain was smart in bringing up his military record, and Huckabee did a great job of actually standing out this time.

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Katelyn:

also, i was speaking about the October debate....didn't realize this article was old. :)

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Jim Skal:

ANYONE that votes for Ron Paul is as blind as he is. He has no business being in the race. Absolutely none. What a crackpot. I pity anyone who thinks otherwise. He is an absolute idiot without correct historical context and absolute inability to grasp the deeper issues that we face. He is like a little kid who wants his own. He sounded like my nine-year-old! Immature is what he is. A whiner to the nth degree. Thankfully, he doesn't stand a chance. Pitifully, he leads weak minds to a path of nowhere.

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georgeo:

This was the first debate I've watched this year and the first time that I've had the opportunity to hear from others beside supposed top contenders. Personally, I think Ron Paul is on the verge of insanity. He doesn't have a grasp for the state of the country or the rest of the world. Rommey reminds me of John Edwards - too perfect in dental work, complexion, hair, dress, etc. The one lesser known that impressed me and I have to find out more about is Huckabee. Again, got to learn more but he seems sincere and maybe conservative enough to me.

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