(CNN) – It appears Barack Obama has higher expectations to meet at Friday night's debate than John McCain does, a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll suggests.
According to the new poll, nearly 6 in 10 Americans think the Illinois senator will win the debates, while only 34 percent think McCain will come out on top.
But that's no guarantee Obama will be deemed the eventual winner, CNN's Polling Director Keating Holland said.
"Four years ago, voters thought George W. Bush would beat John Kerry in the debates but Americans who watched the debates generally thought Kerry was the winner," he said. "On the other hand, voters thought that Bill Clinton would win the debates in 1996 - and post-debate polls agreed with that assessment."
Obama clearly goes into the first debate with a clear advantage in the issues. The new poll suggests 60 percent of voters say that the Illinois senator aggrees with them on the issues. Voters say they trust McCain more than Obama in international issues like Iraq and terrorism - but Obama has a clear 10-point edge (53-43 percent) on the overriding issue of the day: the economy. (In a CNN/ORC poll released Thursday, 56 percent of Americans said the economy was the No. 1 issue.)
But the two candidates are statistically tied on the question of whether voters feel they possess the personal qualities a president should have (62 percent say McCain does, while 64 percent say Obama does.) And in good news for McCain, voters are also tied on what they care more about in this election - issues or personal qualities. Forty-three percent of voters say that the candidates' leadership skills and vision is more important to them than issues; 42 percent say issues are more important.
Americans are also split when it comes to the vice presidential debate, with 48 percent saying Joe Biden is the likely winner and 46 percent giving the edge to Sarah Palin.
"That's probably an indication that Americans aren't familiar enough with either candidate to be able to handicap their performance in a debate," Holland said.