Articles and Analysis


Final Debate Reactions

Topics: Barack Obama , Debates , John McCain

The same networks that conducted "instant reaction" surveys two the first two debates are out with the results to tonight's debate.   Again, see my post from the first presidential debate for more detail on the methodologies used by each network. Here are the results just broadcast (with links to online reports when available):

CBS News once again recontacted uncommitted voters (638 in this case) who had been previously interviewed through the random sample Knowledge Networks Internet panel. The results:

  • Who won the debate? 53% say Obama, 22% McCain, 25% rate it a tie.
  • How did the debate impact vote preferences? 28% say they are now committed to Obama, 14% to McCain and 58% are still uncommitted.
  • Candidates rated - would raise your taxes?
    McCain: 56% before the debate, 48% after
    Obama: 68% before the debate, 63% after
  • Candidates rated - would make the right decisions on health care?
    McCain: 27% before the debate, 30% after
    Obama: 61% before the debate, 69% after
  • Candidates rated - would make the right decisions on the economy?
    McCain: 38% before the debate, 48% after
    Obama: 54% before the debate, 65% after

CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation conducted follow-up telephone interviews with a random sample of 620 registered voters who watched the debate.  In a previous survey, conducted October 13-14, they inidicated they planned to watch tonight's debate.

  • Who did the best job?  58% Obama, 31% McCain.  
  • Obama's rating (favorable-unfavorable):  Pre-debate 63-35%, Post debate 66-33%
  • McCain's rating (favorable-unfavorable):  Pre-debate 51-45%, Post debate 49-49%
  • Who expressed his views more clearly?: 66% Obama, 25% McCain
  • Who spent more time attacking his opponent?:  80% McCain, 7% Obama
  • Who seemed to be the strongest leader?: 56% Obama, 39% McCain
  • Who was more likable?: Obama 70%, McCain 22%
  • Who would better handle the economy?:  59% Obama, 35% McCain
  • Who would better handle health care?: 62% Obama, 31% McCain
  • <Who would better handle taxes: 56% Obama, 41% McCain

Update -  From the CNN summary:

The poll was conducted by telephone with 620 adult Americans who watched the debate. The audience for this debate appears to be a bit more Democratic than the U.S. population as a whole. Forty percent of debate watchers in the poll were Democrats and 30 percent Republicans.

Update II - CNN subsequently updated it's summary:

Eighty-eight percent of Democrats questioned in the poll said Obama did the best job, with 68 percent of Republicans saying McCain performed best. Among independents, 57 percent said Obama did the best job, with 31 percent backing McCain as the winner of the debate

That result is consistent with the reactions by party to the Town Hall debate.  Democrats were more impressed with Obama's performance than Republicans were with McCain's, and independents preferred Obama.

Update III - The Media Curves online/text message survey, a SurveyUSA post-debate poll in California and the Democracy Corps "dial groups" conducted by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg showed similar results (see also the account by Time's Amy Sullivan).



The caveats by CNN seem pretty unfounded. First, a +10 Dem advantage sounds pretty close to right. It may be more like +7 or +8, but almost every poll these days puts in within 3 or 4 points of +10. And also, it doesn't matter what "the US population as a whole" looks like if they didn't all watch the debate. Debates matter most to those who watch them (obviously), so if more Democrats watch, then so be it.

I suppose it really comes down to the question of whose opinions matter. In their case, they only ask undecided voters--which are the opinions we really care about, because partisans are highly unlikely to change their vote over a single debate. And in CBS's sample, Obama did better than in CNN's "skewed" sample--+29% vs. +27%. So no matter how you want to qualify it, Obama won this one, no question.



mccain will be nailed to the cross all week by women over the the hand gestures mocking womens health and pro abortion!

He just cant keep his foor out of his mouth


EDIT: The "in their case" in the second paragraph refers to CBS--the sentence previous to it got edited out.



i agree - it was disrespectful of him to mock the problems of women confronting serious health-related decisions.
just another example of mclame's flagrant disregard for people



2 things:
McCain attacked Obama for calling him eratic when every single question answered by McCain tonight proves that he is eratic. I've realized that Palin was a perfect pick for McCain, it is scary how alike they're thought process and critical thinking is. By jumping around from one disconnected point to the next McCain gives off the appearance of grasping at straws

Second, last week after the debate when the question arose on this sight about CNN's party affiliation in their post debate poll I noted that John King said that if the country was 20 people 8 would be Dem., 6 would be Rep, and 6 would be Ind. Judging by the summary released by CNN tonight that seems to be about right.


@raisethewhiteflag, falcon79:

Didn't catch that exactly, but my girlfriend and I both were shocked when he actually tried to make a case against updating the law re: Lilly Ledbetter. Calling the bill a "trial lawyer's dream" and saying that it would have blown up the statute of limitations is basically saying that discrimination doesn't matter if it's in the past, which is a big f-you to lots and lots of women out there.

The other equally mind-boggling aspect was when he kept talking about the "difficult choice" women had to make re: abortion and how he wanted to be compassionate toward them. The only logically-consistent way to interpret that with everything else is that he thinks it's compassionate to take away that difficult choice and have the government make it for them. Just bizarre.



"Congratulations Joe, you're rich... the rest of you can go to hell."

Stick a fork in it.



Time for McCain to call Diebold. :)




"Congratulations Joe, you're rich... the rest of you can go to hell."

Stick a fork in it.

Mccain lives in a bubble , he has no clue he is talking to 90% of america who would love the wealth to be spread!

He is shockingly clueless ..



Well McCain showed the plumbers crack and it wasn't pretty.

He was flustered unorgamized and uncivil he cried that Obama could out spend him. He condemned Biden while Obama was courtous to Palin. He lacked anything new and couldn't defend his own 1/2 baked policies. His hero Joe if he is just an employee and is making $250,000 plus why would he ever want to be the boss.

But illustrates that no one wants to sacrifice for the nation which is in peril. Countries like Sweden, Canada and Austraila bit the bullet in the early 90s and reformed deficit spending. Yes it meant sacrifice for the citizens but they were still able to have universal healthcare, good schools, social saftey nets and a stable fully financed pension plan.

Yes we all will be paying higher taxes whether it is McCain or Obama. NO MORE FREE RIDE expectially for the top 5%. But every citizen must share the pain and the blame. We elected Ronnie & the Bushes who sheer lack of basic economics has ruined our nation.

Liberal & Socialism aren't bad words especially when attached to solid fiscal policy. Ask yourselfs why are none of the Banks in Canada, Sweden & Austrailia in trouble.
Regulations my friends not regulation which has turned this country into a total mess.



bill kapra:

Unrelated to the debate:

Zogby tomorrow: 49 - 43.5



Well... McCain needed to land a haymaker and knock Obama out. He swung wildly, but never really connected.

Meanwhile, Obama worked the body enough to win on points, and that's if you want to be generous to McCain.


As is my custom, I analyzed and compared the separate parts of the participants to this debate: bubble graphs of no. and length of words and sentences, word clouds. I added a study of the number of speaking turns of each candidate too. You can find this and more at my Word Face-Off blog. Similar analyses of the previous debates are hyperlinked from there.




LOL best analogy ever!



The Republicans who loved McCain before the debate will undoubtedly be ecstatic with his performance.
The Democrats who loved Obama before the debate will undoubtedly be pleased with his performance.
Obama however looked a little tired and worn out,McCain looked fired up.The Harvard educated man really showed his class over McCain on substance.Yes McCain was passionate and he threw all the punches but Obama (even though he's not on top of his game)shows why a solid tertiary education can match and out-debate the man who came 5th last in his naval academy and 20years worth of experience who's on top of his game.
Also anyone who asks for "specifics" one more time i will lose it,why do all Americans expect to be spoon fed information?All the info are on their respective websites.Do some research if you're so concerned with the "specifics" and stop asking.



If you want to know how McCain really did, then go no further than that epicentre of right-wing ideology, The Corner at NRO.

Ramesh Ponnuru probably sums it up best:
"I’m going to go back to watching the first season of Lost. Probably good preparation for next year."

Or the equally odious Mark Steyn:
"When a veteran Republican who's been on the national scene for a quarter-century and a Democrat whom nobody had heard of 20 minutes ago appear to be equal in stature, then by definition the Democrat wins."

The carnage and recriminations within the Republican Party after November 4 will a sight to behold.

Gladdens the heart, really :-)



McCain got off to a fast start. Obama parried McCain's best shots, boxed him from the outside, letting McCain go after him from the center of the ring.

McCain often flailed firing wide of the mark with Obama deftly firing straight positive jabs which as the debate went on after the ugliness and ineffectiveness, of the negative tactics skirmish, became more and more one sided as Obama was positive on each of the core issues, turned McCain over, took over the center of the ring, and all McCain could seemingly do, was catch thin air.

McCain's best and worse moment was when he stated that he was not George Bush and went on to say, Obama should have stood 4 years ago. Sublimally, how many voters, especially the undecided, wished that Obama had, and that they had had that opportunity to vote for him, then? Throughout more worse moments for McCain, always negative, never providing a positive vision, body language appalling.

Obama's worse and best, no best moment, just cool, calm, consistent and absolutely positive returning to the issues throughout. Obama didn't appear to break sweat.



Obama's best moment: the negative attacks "... say more about your campaign than they say about me."

Never a truer word spoken.



Also re:"Joe the plumber" so he's going to buy a plumbing business that will earn him $260,000 - $275,000 in the first year?in this economic climate?i think the whole thing was staged by McCain.
If Joe had the capital to purchase a business with that kind of turnover he'd have to be a millionaire already which means he's living comfortably and should be paying his fair share of taxes.
Obama isn't taking from the rich to give to the poor he's simply balancing out taxation so it's fair.
If a boss whose income is triple the amount of his employees but he's paying the same amount of tax is that fair?give us a break with this negative connotation of "redistribution of wealth"
Anyway the Joe thing is an obvious political ploy.


richard pollara:

What I thought was most interesting is the disconnect between those analyzing the debate and those watching it. Comments like; agressive, had Obama on the defensive, his best performance, won the first part of the debate, made me think the post debate polls would give the edge to McCain. Yet, the CNN and CBS polls showed a decisive win for Obama. What happened?
Clearly viewers are seeing something different than the pundits. My guess is that in the same way a parent doesn't see his child getting bigger, the media which has been following McCain closely for more than a decade, has not noticed the change in McCain.
He is older, his language is less precise, he repeats himself, and he appears both stiff and frail. In a country that is looking to go in a different direction McCain doesn't seem like the guy to do it. For people who only tune in once every four years the winner of the debate was likely determined with the first visual.
On MSNBC this morning Joe Scarborough relayed a conversation that he had with a 72 year old friend of his. "He's just too damn old". Fair or unfair, that was my impression.



Best part of the debate:

On the question of v.p. picks Schieffer asked Obama about his pick of Biden and the last remark of the question, framing the answer for McCain, was "God forbid if anything happened to ME the country will be in good hands with Joe Biden."

As in suggesting...McCain lets hear you say that. Obama truely seems to be the master of the soft dig. How about this line...Obama: "Well, John, Great to hear about your focus on autism. But with the spending freeze...."


Sacks Romana:

McCain was horribly off, and I almost don't understand it.

1) Body language, facial expressions. This is the third debate. Isn't someone coaching him on this stuff? Anyone? Hasn't he been a dynamic public speaker for years? George Bush couldn't speak worth a damn, but he learned to control his body language very well.

2) Republican talking points. Why isn't he using them? He said several times, "Senator Obama wants to spread the wealth around," or something very similar to that effect when describing Obama's tax policy. "Spreading the wealth" is a very positive statement; very few people are going to be turned off. Why isn't he saying Obama wants to tax wealth, tax productivity, tax success, tax people's hard earned money, etc. I don't agree with any of these talking points, but they've been used for years very successfully. For someone who likes to invoke Reagan, he definitely hasn't learned any of his lessons.

3) Joe the Plumber. Dropping names of real people is a common, hackneyed technique, used all the time, including by Obama on the campaign trail and at last night's debate. But Joe the Plumber was ridiculously over the top, and completely backfired. It wasn't just the usual awkward insertion ("So I was running for president the other day and met Laura in [small town in a swing state] and her puppy is lost"), it was McCain looking directly into the camera, desperately trying to convince "Joe", and really, ultimately, making a weak case. I can't go on, it was just awful by any objective standard. Again, it was the sort of thing I can imagine Reagen or Clinton pulling off (even though it's still completely hacky), but that McCain just doesn't have the chops for.

4) There was a couple times when he went beyond not answering the question and beyond rambling. The one that stuck out in my mind is when he was sort of rambling/attacking Obama (can't remember which question as he was off topic), and said "The federal government has grown 40% over the last 8 years.... and the Democrats have controlled Congress for the last two." And then he kept going, trying to link that with Obama.

All four of these things are also points that automatically give people really negative impressions when watching a debate without getting into what's actually said. His style was so off that his substance didn't even matter. Obama dodged plenty of questions, but you had to be paying attention to see him do it.



I don't think Obama appeared tired, I think he appeared tired of the garbage. The Ayers, Wright, ACORN smear tactics are getting rather old. Having already explained them over and over again, to have to do so yet another time would grind on anyone.

This is the first debate that I felt Obama flat out won. He appeared cool, calm, collected, and even polite in spite of the flailing about of McCain. McCain appeared to be desperate, dismissive, and, at times, completely out of touch. The first two debates I felt that both candidates did what they needed to do. Both of them presented to the viewers the images they needed. In last night's debate I feel the images presented were:

Obama: Cool and confident, articulate and calm in the face of an, at times, bizarre incoherent attack. I could see him in a face-to-face negotiation with one of the numerous unstable leaders in the world and being successful.

McCain: Flustered and disorganized. Appeared to be desperate pretty much from the beginning. Patronizing and pathetic nearer the end. Totally out of touch with what the average American really deals with. If his idea of a "middle income American" is a guy who can outright buy a company and makes quarter of a million dollars as an employee, he has no clue whatsoever.




To use McCain's own phraseology re:Ledbetter - "Justice delayed is justice denied, so I will not give them justice at all!"
Seems like his take on the abortion debate, too. "It's a difficult decision, so I will not give them the choice at all!"

And McCain continues to allege Obama and the Democrats would take over people's lives.... Yeah, right.
My take on the debate at my blog:

The best moment of the debate for me: "Joe, you will have to pay ZERO fines." McCain's reaction was simply b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l.



Did no one else notice that McCain talked about his VP, Palins' kid having autism, when in fact her kid has DOWN SYNDROM?? If he doesnt even know his own VP's family problems, how could he possibly know the nations' problems.



In normal conversations, agitation and defensiveness is a sign of lying. Why can't we apply this rule to McCain? Why should we give him the benefit of the doubt because he's a presidential candidate? I'm done making excuses for him. Oddly enough, in political debates like this one, calm composed speech like Obama's is often judged the trickery characteristic of a leftwing illuminati politician. Let's not punish him for being more articulate than McCain.


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