September 26th, 2008
11:28 PM ET
10 years ago

Poll: Both men beat expectations - but Obama had the edge

OXFORD, Mississippi (CNN) – A national poll of people who watched the first presidential debate suggests that Barack Obama came out on top.

Fifty-one percent of those polled in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey of Americans who viewed the debate say that Obama won. Thirty-eight percent of those polled say that John McCain did the best job.

“According to our CNN survey, McCain and Obama both exceeded debate viewers’ expectations tonight,” noted CNN Senior Political Researcher Alan Silverleib. “It can be reasonably concluded, especially after accounting for the slight Democratic bias in the survey, that we witnessed a tie in Mississippi tonight. But given the direction of the campaign over the last couple of weeks, a tie translates to a win for Obama. McCain is trailing right now; he needed a game changer. There are no indications he got that tonight.”

Men were nearly evenly split between the two candidates, with 46 percent giving the win to McCain, and 43 percent to Obama. But women voters tended to give Obama higher marks: 59 percent thought he was the night’s winner, while just 31 percent said the same of McCain.

Both men did better than expected, according to those surveyed: 57 percent say Obama exceeded their expectations, and 60 percent said the same of McCain. One in five voters thought each man under-performed.

National security has been an issue where McCain has held an advantage, but his 4 point edge over Obama - 49 to 45 percent - on the question of which candidate would best handle terrorism is within the poll’s 4.5 percent margin of error.

The economy, which has been Obama’s terrain this cycle, dominated the first half of the debate – and debate watchers gave him a 21 point edge, 58 to 37 percent, on the question of which candidate would do a better job handling the economy. By a similar margin, those polled said he would be better able to deal with the current financial crisis facing the nation.

But the real impact of the debate may not be apparent right away. "The real test will come in a few days when we see whether support for Obama or McCain changes in polls involving all voters, not just debate watchers," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "In post-debate polls after the first face-off in 2004, John Kerry got virtually the same numbers as Obama did tonight. Polls released a few days later showed Kerry gaining five points in the horse race."

Good numbers in a post-debate poll don't always spell success in the horse race. "Kerry also won the third debate in 2004 with the same numbers that Obama got in tonight's poll, but his support dropped five points after that event," Holland noted.

The poll consisted of interviews with 524 adult Americans who watched the debate conducted by telephone on September 26. All interviews were conducted after the end of the debate. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The audience for this debate appears to be more Democratic than the U.S. population as a whole. Because of this, the results favor Obama simply because more Democrats than Republicans tuned into the debate. The sample of debate-watchers in this poll were 41 percent Democratic and 27 percent Republican. The best estimate of the number of Democrats in the voting age population as a whole indicates that the sample is roughly 5-7 points more Democratic than the population as a whole.

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Extra • John McCain
soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. Chris S.

    America has spoken, now bye-bye Mccain.

    September 27, 2008 03:03 am at 3:03 am |
  2. Franklin

    I expected more out of Sen McCain considering that he has this abundance of experience, espectially when it came to foreign policy. Sen Obama appeared to be just as experienced or even more. I expected that neither candidate would respond well to this economic crisis we are facing, but wanted to see who showed pause and the right temperment in dealing with difficult issues. Sen. McCain showed panic under the pressure this crisis was emanating and wanted america to panic alone with him. He needs to stay out of the bailout situation in Washington and work on his Alaska VP pick before she bailout. The fire is hot!!!!!

    September 27, 2008 03:04 am at 3:04 am |
  3. chris

    I think watching the debate to me Obama looks more presidential and Mccain wasn't because he never looked Obama in the eyes through out the debate, but Obama did that certainly and was more posturized. Obama fits the job perfectly well...

    September 27, 2008 03:05 am at 3:05 am |
  4. Olivia Santiago

    Obama definite winner of first debate. He seemed more confident and definitly more intelligent. I also noticed Mccain avoiding eye contact with Obama, making him look weak.

    September 27, 2008 03:06 am at 3:06 am |
  5. Anthony

    Why is it that John McCain wouldnt look Barack Obama straight in the eye's? Or even acknowledge him? I recieved a vibe that McCain FELT as if Barack Obama didnt deserve to be on that stage or even in his presence. DOESN'T SIT WELL WITH ME!!

    September 27, 2008 03:06 am at 3:06 am |
  6. Alex Downs, Long Beach, CA

    Watched the debate and came to the obvious conclusions, conclusions that I'm sure are obvious to all that watched:

    If you're a fighter, you gotta love Mc Cain. If you're a lover you gotta love Obama. If you're an injurer, you gotta love Mc Cain. If you're a healer you gotta love Obama. If you're a banker, you gotta love Mc Cain. If you're a worker, you gotta love Obama. If you're a mega-millionaire, you gotta love Mc Cain. If you're like the rest of us, you gotta love Obama. If you're a bully and hot-head, you gotta love Mc Cain. If you're a conciliator and cool under pressure, you gotta love Obama. If you see Iraq as a good move for our country, you gotta love Mc Cain. If you see Iraq as a mistake and a boondoggle that was all about George Bush's daddy issues, you gotta love Obama. If you're convinced that markets and companies can police themselves and do best for the rest of us, you gotta love Mc Cain. If you believe in rules and regulations designed to protect Americans like you and me, you gotta love Obama. If you're a Bush fan even after all the devastation he caused, you gotta love Mc Cain. If you're not a fan of Bush and his corporate-giveaway schemes, you gotta love Obama.

    The choice is clear after this less than exciting debate.

    Bring it.

    November 4th. Be there and pick sides.

    September 27, 2008 03:07 am at 3:07 am |
  7. Josh

    Obama clearly won BIG. This was McCains turf and he looked almost as clueless as his VP partner. He didnt even know the name of the president of the country that we are at war with!!! Obama was dead on with his answers and stayed calm cool and collected no matter what lie McCain tried to run out there. And where was the Communist McCains flag pin?? Everyone made such a big deal about Obama not wearing one but McCain is the man that made 5 Anti-American propaganda interviews and videos during his POW stint should be the one wearing it if nobody else. He is NOT a war hero!! Do the research, he sold out fellow soldiers and got several killed. He violated EVERY rule of being a POW yet people tout him a hero?!? The records are out there just look for yourself.

    September 27, 2008 03:09 am at 3:09 am |
  8. Nick F.

    I was not particularly impressed by the debate. McCain was occasionally muddled and responses were not always relevant. Obama seems bright, but uncomfortable, possibly because he knows just how limited our resources are and how expensive a proposition addressing our critical problems will be. Saying that truth won't get one elected. I'm not sure that either is equal to the challenges ahead, but I would take my chances with Obama.

    September 27, 2008 03:11 am at 3:11 am |
  9. Alex Yeo

    Will Barack Obama be another Neville Chamberlain of WWII fame? John McCain sounds like Winston Churchill. Will Mr. Obama talk our way on a technicality into another World War? The thought lies with the American voters.

    September 27, 2008 03:11 am at 3:11 am |
  10. Anonymous

    Obama seemed well versed, but more from book knowledge and hard study than from having experienced similar circumstances during his political life. Obama certainly has charisma and is undoubtedly a superior speaker to McCain. But, what matters to me is sincerity and Obama has changed his stance numerous times moving from the far left to more middle-of-the-road as he has progressed from democratic contender to presidential contender.

    September 27, 2008 03:14 am at 3:14 am |
  11. ch

    Iwill be voting for Senator Obama. He is the new leader I want to lead our county. (From what is left of it)

    September 27, 2008 03:15 am at 3:15 am |
  12. andrea/houston,tx

    OBAMA spoke like a true leader of this country.

    September 27, 2008 03:15 am at 3:15 am |
  13. David from Irvine, CA

    This poll leaves the disclaimer that it is a becmocrat-biased poll. Is it then truly worth anything as a poll ???

    September 27, 2008 03:18 am at 3:18 am |
  14. ismael ayuby

    I think it is very important for McCain to win the war in Iraq. He doesn't care if American people if they lose thire houses, their jobs and life saving. Obama is the future and McCain is the past. I am an independant and at this point I think that Obama cares about the American people and their well being.

    September 27, 2008 03:18 am at 3:18 am |
  15. Kate

    One of the first rules of basic LOOK at someone when they are speaking to you!
    McCain's refusal to look at Obama even ONCE was disrespectful, disgusting and racist.
    Now, even more than before I'm in Obama's camp!

    September 27, 2008 03:22 am at 3:22 am |
  16. Deesi

    obama won

    September 27, 2008 03:25 am at 3:25 am |
  17. Aka-ebila

    John, rest your feet, this race is over. You have moved from frying pan to fire without any plans of rescur and it was a huge mistake to suspend your campaign.

    September 27, 2008 03:26 am at 3:26 am |
  18. christy elmasri

    I personally thought that Barak Obama more than held his own and he showed himself to be up to the task of discussing foreign policy.....I thought he did quite well in discussing the economic disaster that has taken and shaken us all to the core...... Obama was right to not give solid answers because until we see just what the economic bailout plan is going to be, he was wise to basically leave it as is.

    September 27, 2008 03:26 am at 3:26 am |
  19. Lucie

    Obama answered his questions well last night and i think the Polls will be high in favour of Obama this coming week. He did well on the Overal, he did exceed my expectations
    Obama/Biden '08
    Clinton '12

    September 27, 2008 03:28 am at 3:28 am |
  20. rj

    Someone said on a blog last week that Obama would probably win the debate in the eyes of the public, but the media would try to spin it as a tie. After reading this article, I see that person was right.

    September 27, 2008 03:28 am at 3:28 am |

    CNN... try to be honest. Sometimes it is good to be Honest.

    September 27, 2008 03:29 am at 3:29 am |
  22. paula

    all polls I've seen so far have Obama waaay ahead of McCain. So much for McCain's ad BEFORE

    September 27, 2008 03:30 am at 3:30 am |
  23. Mendemoi Sagbah

    Mccain was in greater command of Facts, detail and experience. He used more of the words "I" than Obama. Indicating that he had been a part of much of what he was saying. He had done it etc. Compared to Obama who was "promising" to do what McCain has already done.

    September 27, 2008 03:31 am at 3:31 am |
  24. Hope LV,NV

    I agree that Obama won because in addition to his answers his body langauge was very good. McCain never looked in Obama's direction. And if a man can't look you in the eye don't trust him.

    September 27, 2008 03:34 am at 3:34 am |
  25. dreb

    Best of 3 Debate Series


    September 27, 2008 03:35 am at 3:35 am |
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