September 27th, 2008
09:11 AM ET
11 years ago

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

ALT TEXT

(AP Photo)

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.

soundoff (162 Responses)
  1. MarioB. from Berlin for OBAMA/BIDEN

    Well guys, it's a clear thing.
    OBAMA won that thing cleary, because McCain missed winning that debate clearly, despite the facts that this debate was McCains favourite topic and he often was seen as the better debater.
    If he's really much more skilled than Obama in foreign politics and in debating, etc. well then we saw a very poor performance by McSame.

    I hope Biden will just grill Palin on Thursday night. I'm looking forward to it.

    Round 1 goes clearly to Obama, because he was expected to be the weaker man of the both but wasn't.
    And he could make sure, HE IS READY TO LEAD!

    September 27, 2008 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  2. Roger Matticks

    To bad we couldn't vote them both in. Obama for our economy and the McCain for National Security

    September 27, 2008 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  3. Eric Silver

    John McCain’s arrogance, disrespect, and condescension towards Obama in tonight’s debate, and his very refusal to even look at him, is precisely how the American government has historically belittled and behaved towards other nations, and precisely why so many of the world’s people resent and hate us.

    It is McCain, not Obama, who “doesn’t understand.” It is McCain who “doesn’t get it.” It is McCain who would countinue to apply that suicidal mentality in his foreign policy.

    Do you remember John Bobbit? After his wife, Lorena, severed his manhood, which was surgically replaced, he became hell-bent on making a porn movie to demonstrate that was he still "intact," after that terribly humiliating and (literally) emasculating incident. No one cared, nor forgot that his wife had cut his d**k off. McCain is no different.

    Emasculated in the air over Vietnam, then mentally and physically broken by his captors in prison, he is now hell-bent on demonstrating his "manhood" through the pornography of continued unprovoked warfare, and reckless economic policy. This angry, hostile, man is simply unfit for the presidency.

    http://www.outsidersdc.com/forum/yb/YaBB.pl?board=election

    September 27, 2008 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  4. reg

    The Facts:

    According to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly, McCain has voted for bills favored by President Bush 90 percent of the time. The nonpartisan publication, which has analyzed voting by members of Congress since 1953, said the report took into account all legislation that Bush had taken a clear position on. It spans from the beginning of Bush's term to Congress's recess in August.

    In the 100-member Senate, 14 current members — all Republicans — voted with Bush more than 90 percent of the time, according to the report. Six others have a 90 percent rating like McCain's. The report shows Obama voting with Bush 40 percent of the time and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, voting with Bush 52 percent of the time during the course of his presidency.

    Obama surrogates also frequently say McCain voted with Bush 95 percent of the time. This is a reference to the Republican senator's record in 2007. That was the highest percentage in the seven years studied. In 1995, McCain voted with Bush 77 percent of the time — his lowest percentage in those years. "The president and I agree on most issues," McCain said in a May 22, 2003 interview on Fox's "Your World with Neil Cavuto." "There was a recent study that showed that I voted with the president over 90 percent of the time, higher than a lot of my even Republican colleagues."

    Verdict: True

    September 27, 2008 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  5. BJGT

    Obama clearly won the debate and with a lot of grace and solid command of the facts. He treated McCain with respect even though the old man was clearly angry.

    The debate shows the depth of Obama's knowledge of global political economy – he is simply brilliant!!

    The world now knows that Obama will be the next president of USA and what a privilege to have him.

    September 27, 2008 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  6. Clinton Democrat for Obama

    I'm glad Sen. McCain decided to show up to lose.

    He should've stuck to his original instinct of staying in Washington to learn how the economy works.

    September 27, 2008 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  7. mark

    Obama was great i like this man!

    September 27, 2008 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  8. Pat, TX

    Debate 1 goes to Obama in my opinion. You could see that McCain was afraind to even make eye contact with Obama and his handshake at the end was so milqtoast....again, no eye contact. Obama attempted to abide by Jim Leher's request to debate each other rather than just focus on him as the moderator but McCain was definitely having no "reaching across the aisle" moments last night. McCain really looked like a poor sport to me.

    September 27, 2008 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  9. Dan

    The CNN poll is obviously not a representative sample, as it is skewed toward Democrats and Obama leaning Independents. Why did David Gergen keep repeating that McCain needed an overwhelming victory when the Gallup poll puts them as roughly dead even and Rasmussen is roughly the same? Unfortunately, CNN's panel of "journalists" was just as biased, as Henry Kissinger had to send them an email to point out that McCain's characterization of his position was correct when they once again took their reflexive anti-McCain pro-Obama position on Kissenger's position on Iran. I wish that CNN would put more unbiased people like John King on their panel of journalists because the bias of most of their other political reporters including David Gergen is very obvious.

    September 27, 2008 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  10. box101

    Obama did well. WHat I liked most was how he tied foreign policy to the financial problems in the USA.

    We spend $10 billion per month in Iraq when we are at a point where the USA does not have any money. During the debate, Obama noted that Iraq made alost $80 billion from oil last year.

    Also, he stated that if we stop our dependence on foreign, other countries may not have so much leverage in comitting the USA to war.

    September 27, 2008 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  11. Eric Silver

    September 27th, 2008 9:32 am ET
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    John McCain’s arrogance, disrespect, and condescension towards Obama in tonight’s debate, and his very refusal to even look at him, is precisely how the American government has historically belittled and behaved towards other nations, and precisely why so many of the world’s people resent and hate us.

    It is McCain, not Obama, who “doesn’t understand.” It is McCain who “doesn’t get it.” It is McCain who would countinue to apply that suicidal mentality in his foreign policy.

    Do you remember John Bobbit? After his wife, Lorena, severed his manhood, which was surgically replaced, he became hell-bent on making a porn movie to demonstrate that was he still "intact," after that terribly humiliating and (literally) emasculating incident. No one cared, nor forgot what his wife had done to him. McCain is no different.

    Emasculated in the air over Vietnam, then mentally and physically broken by his captors in prison, he is now hell-bent on demonstrating his "manhood" through the pornography of continued unprovoked warfare, and reckless economic policy. This angry, hostile, man is simply unfit for the presidency.

    http://www.outsidersdc.com/forum/yb/YaBB.pl?board=election

    September 27, 2008 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  12. ANGIE

    I think Senator Obama was great Mccain came off as a grumpy old man scolding Obama, Obama came off presidental explaining his vision for the future the way i got it was mccain policies were for the present and the old way obama is for the future and new ways real CHANGE but i dont understand why Mccain did not look at obama?

    September 27, 2008 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  13. Roslyn Cousins

    Bush Legacy: World War I...IRAQ WAR...World War II...AFGAN WAR...World War III...BAILOUT...HIS BEST DAY IN OFFICE: NOV. 4, 2008...BARACK OBAMA WINS ELECTION..."Signed, Sealed & Delivered" 🙂

    September 27, 2008 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  14. Billy

    Obama looked very strong and knowledgeable. He also looked forceful and fearless. He engaged the moderator and audience and, most importantly, McCain when on the attack.

    McCain appeared subservient by constantly looking away from everyone. His stories about the past were too dated and made him appear old and stuck in the past. When on the attack, McCain was condescending. It's clear that McCain really dislikes Obama.

    Obama looked and sounded much more presidential.

    September 27, 2008 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  15. Eileen

    I watched the debates- tapped it and watched it again. I'm a Democrate but thought McCain did better but again I was one of those persons that thought McCain, Obama and Biden needed to be in DC this week working for us, especially since whoever wins will be holding the bag.

    September 27, 2008 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  16. linda in ky

    I feel Obama should have countered Mc Lame on the surge,by reminding the public that .THE US GOVERNMENT gave guns , amo amd money to the enemy in order to have them fight each other. What about all the mercinaries that out number our troops? If the surge worked why are we still there? This is the reason deaths went down not that the surge worked. Just another slime ball attempt to look good !

    September 27, 2008 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  17. Matt

    Why has CNN not once stated, referred to or even acknowledged the tally of its 6-member bipartisan panel that was scoring the debate the entire time? The net score was Obama 44, McCain 22. Why have them keep a tally if you're even going to let them say the opposite of what their own scores showed by claiming a tie? This is an equivocating sham to squeeze more news out of the next 40 days.

    September 27, 2008 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  18. Anthony Independent Voter

    I changed my vote last night...
    I'm now voting for John McCain. His experience and poise really showed last night against Barack Obama. It really occurred to me when Barack Obama kept on saying, "John you are right" that made me change my mind. I was leaning towards Obama the whole election, but last night, Obama really discouraged me and really showed the inexperience that other candidates had targeted him for. My vote is now for John McCain.

    Independent for McCain '08

    September 27, 2008 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  19. Nate HUSSEIN

    Why couldn't McCain look him in the eye, 90 minutes and not even a glance? Very telling......

    Obama/Biden '08

    September 27, 2008 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  20. Bonnie

    McCain needed a clear win and didn't get it. Now he needs yet another 'game changer', 'October surprise'. Watch him dump Palin before her debate with the obviously far more qualified Biden. McCain's running out of time for stunts. He looked old and stiff. Obama was relaxed, informed, and looked – well – Presidential!

    September 27, 2008 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  21. McCain thinks we are stupid

    Obama CLEARLY won.... McCain is extremely angry, and negative, hostile, and has a childish behavior with a 20th century mentality. McCain is full of WAR desires, and lacks prudent judgement.... Obama is extremely smart, Obama is GREAT for our country around the world.

    September 27, 2008 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  22. WI Voter

    McCain saw things in black and white, right and wrong–very narrow. Obama showed the correct judgment and vision, and showed that he can lead. McCain is a step backwards.

    Obama-Biden 08'

    September 27, 2008 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  23. Robert

    Obama definitely came out on top of this debate. I felt he offered enough salient points to engage the viewer and to create the impression that he has what it takes to lead this country out of its current doldrums. McCain, on the other hand, seemed not as well prepared. He kept going back to his comfort zone of "when he was a POW", and offered little in the way that would make inspire confidence in his ability to heal our economic woes. I found his repeated statements of "Senator Obama not understanding...." to be a poor choice of words and somewhat demeaning of Obama. It could easily be said that a man who has supported the current President 90% of the time, clearly doesn't understand the severity of the mess we are presently in. GO OBAMA!!

    September 27, 2008 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  24. Puzzled

    Someone tells me where Obama gets permission to call someone who not only knows about military affairs, but who has overseen them and suffered for five years because he had the guts to fight for his country "John" It's Senator McCain to you, law school professor and state senator., and, oh yeah, "community organizer."

    September 27, 2008 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  25. Ted van Tol

    Come on CNN, where is the headline:

    BARACK OBAMA WINS THE FIRST DEBATE!

    September 27, 2008 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
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