September 26th, 2008
11:28 PM ET
14 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. John Locke

    McCain won by a landslide. I think some of the polls are done by calling districts that are traditionally democratic, which makes them entirely un-scientific. Network bias proves this to be very possible. If who "won" the debate is based on the most knowledgeable, competent person to lead the greatest nation on earth...The answer is clear: John McCain. Obama was jittery, rude with continuous interruptions, and near hostile at times. John McCain was clear, precise, substantive, and direct with his answers. One point he made very clear: He is the one who works with democrats and republicans – Obama does not, proved with his 97% "left" voting record. How do you trust a guy who says he will unite democrats and republicans but his record proves he doesn't do that? Obama is scary: It is proved he changes positions just to try to get elected. McCain is solid as a rock, and the ONLY candidate we can trust to lead this nation.

    September 27, 2008 04:26 am at 4:26 am |
  2. Avembe

    Even if Obama"wins " the 3 debates it doesn't mean that he will win the GE!!!remember what happened to Sen. Kerry!!!!!!!
    Even if Obama was ahead in the polls by double digit it wouldn't mean that he would win!!!remember Dukakis!
    Meaning....let's wait 5th of NOVEMBER!!!!!!!!!

    September 27, 2008 04:27 am at 4:27 am |
  3. DonnieJ

    McCain could not even look at Obama during the debate. And he's supposed to be a "tough guy"? Loser.

    September 27, 2008 04:28 am at 4:28 am |
  4. Mark - California

    Now you know why McCain wanted to call the debates off. I still believe his main objective was to get the VP debate cancelled because he and the rest of the conservative know he made a bad judgement call with Palin.

    September 27, 2008 04:28 am at 4:28 am |
  5. Blue Tiger

    Looking at the debate on it's own, Obama did NOT have any sort of edge. He spoke in pure generalities while McCain cited one specfic point after another.

    I don't know who I'm going to vote for but after that debate, I have a lot more confidence in John McCain.

    September 27, 2008 04:29 am at 4:29 am |
  6. Holly

    What "slight democratic bias" does this article speak of? Journalists shouldn't make such statements without providing some clarification. By the way, I watched the debate in a bar with a lot of people. Obama won.

    September 27, 2008 04:30 am at 4:30 am |
  7. DonnieJ

    And by the way, McCain has to stop doing that creepy-old-man-snake-tongue thing. It looked like he was trying to catch bugs with it or something, the way he kept flicking it.

    September 27, 2008 04:31 am at 4:31 am |
  8. KindMiss

    I wish Obama was more aggresive tonight, anyway, he almost made McSame snap at some point, which clearly shows his temperment. If Cindy was an ordinary woman, he would've slapped her around all the time.But he needs her money, so.....

    September 27, 2008 04:33 am at 4:33 am |
  9. Jeanne Allan

    What in the h e ll is a "slight Democratic bias"? You asked 524 adults in a country of hundreds of millions and you think you've got an accurate picture? God, these polls get dumber and dumber as the election runs on. Oh, let me guess; you're really basing this on internet opinion. Great thought there. Because, of course, the internet isn't overly populated by Generation Young & Really Stupid. Hang out at facebook and youtube for awhile and you'll be forced to start wondering: "How did these idiots even get out of junior high, much less swing a high school or college degree?" There are a lot more people in this country than those paid to hang around on blogs and cheer Obama on, and they don't see things the way Gen YRS does.

    McCain bashers – grow up. Even your own party dropped the "can't use a computer" thing when they learned the truth. Try to pay a little more attention, okay?

    Obama has the edge (online) because the 20 and 30something sheeple are rightfully mad at the Republicans and they think he is their only alternative. Obama is playing them for the fools they are to fulfill his personal ambitions, and they are too gullible to see it.

    REAL CHANGE can only come through overthrowing the Dem-Repub regime and bringing in people who do not owe blind allegiance to either of those corrupt-to-the-core parties. A vote for McCain OR Obama is simply a vote for same-old, same-old business-as-usual.

    September 27, 2008 04:34 am at 4:34 am |
  10. Adel Zeki

    I am an independent. I do not belong to any party . This is how i feel about the debate. The result of the debate to me and to any logical person was known even before it started . The debate was between a man with 1.5 year experience versus a man with over 20 years experence. It was between a man who put his country before his own interest when he supported an unpopler surge in Iraq. versuse a man who is willing to say anything to the Amercan people to get their vote. Obama knows very well that he can not pull trops from Iraq if the regoinal countryes like Kuwait, Suid Areba, Turkey say no , because it will destabilize the region. and yet he said he will pull trops within 16 month. from the day he become president (we will see about that) Such a promiss will make him either not truthful to the American people or it could indicate that he is totally un aware of the basic facts of foreign politics in the Middle east. In either case it is a desister. I am an American citizen, my origin from the Middle East. To day the debate showed who had the leadership quality and who is really ready to lead . I will lose my faith in the American people if they elect Obama. Because a nation who give no value to experience and no value to a stright talker Like MCCain it doomed to fall. ( Obama is a good talker, but that does not mean he can lead a country like America).

    September 27, 2008 04:53 am at 4:53 am |
  11. Gerard

    When it comes to the economy, there is hard proof that McCain's "trickle down" theories don't work, and that Obama's "bottom-up" theory does:

    See for yourself:

    This proof is unimpeachable.

    September 27, 2008 06:42 am at 6:42 am |
  12. john

    Sen. Brack Obama won simply because he was more crispy and cool collected and he exceeded beyond my wildest expectation. Brack obama got my vote tonight

    September 27, 2008 06:58 am at 6:58 am |
  13. Lily

    Everyone needs to LISTEN to Obama. It is truly apparent that his best interest is an overall intrest for ALL Americans. He will put Washington to work for us all. God Bless Obama. God Bless AMERICA, Land That I Love.

    September 27, 2008 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  14. FayeCT

    Of course Obama has an edge in the polls. He usually does. That means NOTHING. November is when it really counts.

    NO Obama!!

    September 27, 2008 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  15. Elizabeth

    Obama clearly had the edge. McCain sounded like he was lecturing and would rarely look Obama in the face. McCain is supposed to be the 'maverick', willing to cross party lines but tonight he sure came across very stubborn unwilling to give Obama any credit. At least Obama could admit when McCain was right.

    Obama/Biden '08

    September 27, 2008 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  16. Leslie

    Obama definitely looked so much better, McCain was twitching and snorting, really unattractive.

    September 27, 2008 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  17. tennisguypitt

    either way, Obama wins because it wasn't clear that McCain had a clear advantage with these issues. I thought this was McCain's turf, but I couldn't tell from the debate last night.

    Obama's probably going to have an advantage in the next debates.

    Let's see how this goes...

    Obama/Biden '08

    September 27, 2008 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  18. FL4OB

    Obama won the debate. After this past week of McCain's unnecessary drama and misguided shennanigans, all Obama had to was hold his own, and he exceeded that expectation.

    Obama/Biden '08

    September 27, 2008 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  19. Cheri

    Obama did much better than McCain. McCain seemed to be bringing up alot of what he did in the past, but not to much on what he is or would do for us in the future. I know experience is nessecary, but I didn't get the feeling he is connected to middle America and helping us. Obama did well and I agree with his platform he is running on. I used to be a republican, but now am a democrat. I don't vote a straight democrat ticket, but Obama definately has my vote.

    September 27, 2008 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  20. Deb, Allentown,PA

    I am an Obama supporter so I agree with him on most of his policy statements and agree with almost nothing that McCain says.

    However, having said that, I still wonder how McCain's refusal to look at Obama will play. Personally, I thought he looked angry and condescending. Kept waiting for that infamous temper to erupt. It looked as though it was pretty close to the surface a few times.

    And darn...only three occasions to play the "my friends" drinking game. I thought we'd get a lot more of those.

    September 27, 2008 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  21. Concerned Teen, Ga

    I loved the debate! I come from a republican household and I have to say Obama won. McCain kept getting angry and he wouldn't listen to Obama. I don't see how anyone can say McCain won with a straight face. Obama won and my republican family agrees.
    Obama/biden '08

    September 27, 2008 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  22. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    I don't want a warped, ol-man, with a chip on his shoulderat the controls. I want to return to diplomacy, a strong economy and hope forthe future. That hope lies with Obama.

    McCain and Palin have made a farce of the GOP – and the GOP knows it, too!!!

    September 27, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  23. a p

    Hey, did anyone notice that McShame wasn't wearing a flag pin ? He also couldn't look his opponent in the eye, just like kids who know they are lying or doing something WRONG...hmmm...interesting...

    September 27, 2008 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  24. Trica

    Cnn poll dosent surpraise me its offical obama network so stop spinning it cuz you want your guy to win who eles would be watching none other than obama fans!!!

    September 27, 2008 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
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