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

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

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(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. Liz

    McCain seemed dangerously stuck in the past last nite. I mean he still won't concede we made a mistake going into Iraq. Also who wants a POTUS who can't even look his opponent in the eye? That's just weird!

    September 27, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  2. McCain thinks we are stupid

    Obama CLEARLY WON..... McCain is extremely angry, and negative, hostile, and has a childish attitude with a 20th century mentality. McCain lives in the PAST... Obama is extremely smart, and has prudent judgement.

    September 27, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  3. rachel

    no body polled me and I am a democrat . I thought mccain had the edge.

    September 27, 2008 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  4. waunema reagan

    I think the decisive voters are not represented in the polls. those are the undecided. If I were undecided I would vote for McCain, I feel OBama did not have the knowledge and he appeared red faced and ready to get defensive. A President can not show anger at a simple debate. A President must show strength I saw that in McCain's stance and attitude. McCain has much more knowledge of the world, war zones and those who are there. I fear OBama will allow terrorist to enter this country and we will eventually belong to another country.

    September 27, 2008 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  5. Daniel

    Disgusted with CNN. Supposed to be an independent news channel but in fact an attachment to Obama campaing. Will quit watching it. Do not like communists.

    September 27, 2008 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  6. Rosemary Austin

    I think Senator McCain clearly won the debate. He has so much more knowledge and wisdom in dealing with the economy and most definitely in dealing with foreign affairs. Obama scares me. It's as if he is not living in the real world. He promises solutions and says what he thinks the people want to hear without really having the experience or the expertise to perform. In many ways I think Senator Obama is such a polished speaker and has so much charm that people are taken in by it and not really hearing the message he is speaking which in my opinion is so shallow in substance.

    My prayer is – May the Best Man Win and I hope it is Senator McCain.

    September 27, 2008 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  7. Barbara Solomon

    Obama was the clear winner. While McCain told us time and again that he had been all over the world, knew its' leaders and had the experience to be Commander in Chief, he never gave us a clear picture of what he would do to stabilize growing world tensions and eliminate Al Qaeda. "Trust Me" just doesn't cut it. That's what got us into this mess in the first place. Obama, on the other hand, showed a clear understanding of what is at stake if we don't concentrate on Afghanistan and Pakistan and send in more troops to root out our true enemies. And when McCain tried to link Iraq to Afghanistan, Obama pointed out, rightly so, that Al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq before we invaded. It was George Bush's poor judgement that allowed both Al Qaeda and Iran to gain a foothold in Iraq. Surge or no surge, McCain's defense of the Iraq invasion tells me that he is NOT qualified to be President. OH, and then there's SARAH PALIN!

    September 27, 2008 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  8. Joni Beaulieu

    I'm not surprised by the outcome of the debate. It takes time to prepare for a debate, regardless of how well you know the issues. Obama spent his time preparing for the debate - politics as usual. McCain spent his time leading our country during an economic crisis. So the real question is - do we want politics as usual or a leader who puts country before self?

    September 27, 2008 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  9. LaVerne Winston

    Obama's message/focus was directed at today's problems& solutions; revelant to American's concerns now, at least it h was more impressive to me. I am a retired special ed. teacher; suffering from today's economy. I give him a B+ on this debate...
    McCain's message/focus was directed at voters & potential voters reminding and attempting to impress with his experience. Old is not always the best; most times it is slow and fragile, which is not need now! I give him a C- on this debate

    September 27, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  10. Duane

    “It can be reasonably concluded, especially after accounting for the slight Democratic bias in the survey, that we witnessed a tie in Mississippi tonight. "

    You mean accounting for a very large democratic bias dont you? The media is so biased towards the Democrat's that even if Obama had said nothing meaningful ( pretty much what he did ) you would have still pronounced him the winner!

    It is this bias that is displayed in the media over and over that will come back to haunt you all in the end.

    September 27, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  11. Rodger

    John McCain looked older and tired. Same stories and lines.
    Barrack Obama was more relaxed and more of a gentleman. He was very tough in an area that was supposed to be McCains. He also brought out McCain's lack of judgement.
    Bottom line...Obama was more Presidential.

    September 27, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  12. Belle2

    Let me see now-

    The majority of those polled were Democrats.
    McCain was more accurate than Obama.
    CNN contributors gave Obama a 3 (avg) and McCain 3.2 (avg).

    But, the polls like Obama better so he is the winner.

    CNN do you know why more Democrats watched CNN than Republicans or Independents. Think about it-you can do better than that.

    September 27, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  13. jordan

    First of all Obama made mccain look silly, mccain was scared and nervous.

    September 27, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  14. Alice Newman Center Harbor NH

    "John McCain speaks words with action and will get the job done at the end of the day." says AnnR ..

    Then explain to me why, after decades, McCain is unable to make any progress on the elimination of earmarks, unable to lead his own party into being fiscally responsible instead of "borrow and spend" , unable to reform Fannie & Freddie in 2005, when his own party was in complete control of Congress and the White House.

    McCain lectures: he can not lead if no one is following him! Conservatives now are even calling for Palin to stand down for the "good of the party"...

    September 27, 2008 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  15. Amanda

    Notice how Mccain could never look Obama in the eye? I am convinced this man is intimidated by Obama. He proves this time and time again when he puts out those ridiculous ads bashing Obama. He's jealous and he cannot contain it. He also has contempt for Obama, and he showed this as time and time again Obama gave him credit where it was due, yet he could not do the same. He has no respect for him and I think that makes McCain even less of a man. I don't care that he was a POW. Doesn't make him qualified to be POTUS. He's served his country well, and now it's Obama's turn to do his country well by being the most qualified and having the best judgement. He held his own last night, I was so proud of him!

    September 27, 2008 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  16. HENRIE WARE

    MCBUSH HAS REALLY REALLY BAD MANNERS WHEN YOU DEBATE SONEONE YOU LOOK AT THEM I DID NOT SEE THAT FROM MR MCBUSH. MR MCBUSH IS BUSH

    September 27, 2008 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  17. Linda, USA

    What poll is CNN looking at? All the ones I see show McCain won the debate! Dream on CNN- maybe you and the New York Times can hold each others hand and comfort each other.

    September 27, 2008 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  18. Tom Pappas

    Rebublicans and Fox blabla, can spin like wash machine all day long! The truth is
    Senator McCain past actually impairs him from to be flexible and confront the future with open mind. .Senator Obama foreign policy is moderate but also smart. That helps to keep our friends near, and or foes nearer!
    What an ostrich and the Republicans have in common? Let me guess!
    An ostrich bury its head in the sand and pretend everything is fine.
    Republicans do the same and follow McCain!

    September 27, 2008 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  19. Tony

    How many times did McCain question Obama's judgment and experience during the debate?

    After his choice of Palin as VP, how he could even go near the subject of judgment or experience boggles the mind.

    Next Thrusday evening there will be a major meltdown and imploison on live television for the world to see when Biden debates Palin.

    September 27, 2008 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  20. Staunch Independent

    Obama is a unifier and seeks connection, not division. That's why he said that he agreed with McCain on some issues. It's easier to solve a problem if the commonalitites are laid out first. Obama responded as a person who was looking to solve problems, not create them. That's why he is the person we need solving problems. We've had all we can take of those that create them – the present administration and their wealthy financiers.

    My decision is made and I will vote for the Unifier.

    September 27, 2008 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  21. AMAforObama

    Does Palin understand what McCain says Obama does not understand – NOT. I hope she is having a successful cram session before Thursday. Why did she not talk with the media last night?

    September 27, 2008 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  22. Linda

    Although I think McCain did a better job in the debate, I was very disappointed that he did not counter Obama's damaging claim that not taxing people (McCain's plan to cut taxes would "cost" around 300 million, is what Obama said) is the same as spending tax dollars. The reason the Democrats always describe tax cuts as "spending" is because their pet "tax cuts" are nothing more than redistribution of income from those that earned it to those that didn't (the earned income credit, for example). It does not cost the government one cent to let me keep more of my income. It does cost the government (taxpayers) money to take my money and give it to a family that didn't even earn enough money in the first place to have a tax liability and then to call it a tax cut for them. This is political double speak, plain and simple, and that's what Obama is really all about.

    September 27, 2008 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  23. Debby

    Well Fox had a totally different poll so I am not surprised CNN has this one. As far as the debate it was a sideshow and the blame game especially from Obama. Obama forgets he has only been in the Senate a short time, so him siding with Bush is about 95% of the time also if you look at the proposals he voted for. Obama orated better than McCain, but it was so rehearsed, and when confronted he got flustered and said I didn't say that, or no thats not true like a 3rd grader. He kept harping on his tax cuts for 95% of Americans. So is the other 5% suppose to pay for all this in new taxes? The math on that one is totally ridiculous. The debate didn't accomplish anything but just more bickering. They both lost IMO.

    September 27, 2008 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  24. BlahBlahBlah

    Obama/Biden '08!

    September 27, 2008 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  25. Las Vegas

    McCain was rude. He never even looked at Obama while speaking. He also can't get over the Vietnam War. He lives in the past and he is all about war. His maverick temper is going to get us further in trouble with other countries. We need someone like Obama to be willing to negotiate things out vs. sending troops in and getting more of our young men and women killed. We have so much wrong with our own country right now, we need to be taking care of business at home vs. worrying about how the rest of the world is doing.

    September 27, 2008 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
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