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

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


(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. Willie Smith

    Obama won the debate by a landslide. I can not wait for the V.P debate. I know that Sarah wish she could beat Joe Biding by talking baby clothes, She out of her of her zone. Its sad but they set her up!
    Willie Smith
    St. Petersburg Florida

    September 27, 2008 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  2. Lori

    I think people are beginning to recognize the "sales" tactics used by McCain and find it condescending. The tactic of “pain” that McCain uses in so many of his commercials and even used last night relies on the sales precept that psychologically people will “buy” to ease pain rather than to gain happiness. This is why you hear “pain” so often on his commercial rather than what will actually be done to improve the country. Well, scare tactics were used by Bush to gain American support in the Iraq war, now we have the facts about WMD's, and we are now more savvy to this. Stop buying it.

    September 27, 2008 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  3. Big D

    I think that Obama won for several reasons. One is that a tie would go to the challenger – and if Obama did as good as this in a debate that should have favored McCain, then Obama won. I also think Obama won because his performance should silence all those negative cries of 'he's too nieve, he's not ready, he can't talk without a teleprompter, he's just an empty suit, he doesn't have any ideas'. His solid performance gets rid of all of those complaints and proves that he is ready. I think Obama should get more of a bounce out of the debate.

    September 27, 2008 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  4. LifeLongDemocrat

    John McCain said several times that Obama didn't understand something. I found it to be very condescending and amounted to a personal attack on Obama as opposed to a debate on the issues.
    McCain's demeanor was also very snarky and did not make me feel any better about a presidency of a 72 yo man and an unqualified VP nominee.

    McCain facial expressions were not in keeping with the topic at hand but seemed to be his way of covering his well-known problem with anger management. Twice during the debate he appeared to be ready to blow up but used unusual facial expressions to cover this feeling.

    McCain may have a lot to say but he doesn't appear presidential. he really needs to stay in the Senate as he seems more suited for a role at that level.

    September 27, 2008 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  5. Philip Green

    If one ignores the detail of the responses by each candidate and instead looks at their demeanor, it should be clear to all that Obama is far more "presidential" in his stature. He demonstrated his ability to recognize a good idea from across the aisle while McCain, ironically, sounded like he was disagreeing with Obama even when he was repeating what Obama had said - but far less eloquently. While McCain claims to be a person who can reach across the aisle, he failed miserably to demonstrate that quality last night. Finally, McCain's facial expressions showed derision and disrespect. Perhaps it was his less than latent racism rearing its ugly head once again.

    September 27, 2008 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  6. Charlotte

    Neither one said how they would vote on the bailout? I was bored by the the stump speech answers. With the economy being what it is, don't expect any of the campaign promises to be kept that allude to a tax break. Obama wants to move the troops to Afghanistan, how will that save 10 million a month? Is the cost cheaper there? I don't see how moving troops to another location will cut cost. Empty promises, much like our gas tanks.

    September 27, 2008 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  7. John, Catholic

    Obama needs one simple response to deal with McCain. "Now what?" The conversation would go like this:

    On Iraq:
    McCain: "The Surge was successful."
    Obama: "The Surge was the greatest thing in the history of mankind, Now what?"
    McCain: "We will come home in victory and honor."
    Obama: "How?"
    McCain: (Made up answer) "By drawing down the troops and refocusing on afghan."
    Obama: (Jokingly) "I am glad to hear you like my plan."

    On Taxes:
    McCain: "We need to cut taxes across the board."
    Obama: "Okay let us do that. Now what?"
    McCain: "Then we will cut out earmark spending and decrease government."
    Obama: "Let us do that. Now what? We still have two wars going on which have to be paid for in some way. Unless you plan on ending the wars or decreasing the size of government until government does not exist, which would put the two of us out of a job, there is no possible way to sustain our military actions in the world and provide basic government functions with tax cuts across the board."

    September 27, 2008 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  8. Terrell of Escondido Ca.

    I think That both men did well, However Mccain came off as desperate, Petulant and out of touch with our nations future diplomatic mission.

    September 27, 2008 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  9. temi


    September 27, 2008 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  10. Sharon, TX

    "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."
    CNN, this is good info to know regarding polls. How about you provide this type detailed info for all future polls (percentage of democrats, independents & republicans for each poll, # of people interviewed, percentage of poll compared to population as a whole, etc.) - since you spend so much time discussing them. It may help to explain the constant movement of the polls in this election.

    September 27, 2008 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  11. Dave, Illinois

    Fox's poll shows that McCain won. CNN has a center-left viewership and Fox has a center-right viewership. The polls that show Obama slightly ahead are skewed because Obama always polls better than reality simply because people are afraid to be labeled "racists" by the race-baiting Obamites.

    September 27, 2008 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  12. Bottom line: Obama has NO resume, even for change!!

    Obama looked like he was getting a lesson in the REALITY of foreign policy, even though he has plenty of book smarts, and can talk well.
    Please don't even say Obama "schooled him", but I admit Obama did fine overall. No real blunders, but not ready to deal with the mean world out there.

    September 27, 2008 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  13. one nation under god!!!!

    This too funny.The liberal smear machine is a t full throttle.Especially since libs love to say its republicans who the smear merchants.McCain looked presidential,kept his cool,had a real understanding of the issues,while obama looked like he was searching for the textbook answer.Also obama loook angry and agitated and at one time was lookin around for help from the audiece.One think we know especially on the right that these polls from the liberal fascist media are biased.So when i see CNN polls complete with so called undecieded voters saying obama won i have to chuckle , because the obama sheep think their candidate won and the rest of the democrats who never think ofr themeselves bye into it too.But us here in real america by a 7 to 1 margin know McCain won.What does the media liberal elite think ?do they actuallt think we are goona go along with their socialists agenda and put the liberal fascist dictator in office.PleeaaseSorry obamabots it was already over for him and now people around me are asking,Why did the dems put this tomatoe can up as their party rep for president.It is insulting to their intellegence.Just had to bring you sorry college punks back to reality.

    September 27, 2008 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  14. MLD

    Obama had the edge because he agreed with McCain most of the time.

    The guy's a joke.

    September 27, 2008 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  15. Maryjane Treloar

    Did anyone notice that although Jim Leher was trying to get the two candidates to speak to each other, and that Senator Obama did speak directly to Senator McCain, Senator McCain did not glance or look at or speak to Senator Obama during the debate. As I became aware of McCain's tactic, I realized that he and his team were playing the" race card". An old way of showing contempt is to avoid eye-to-eye contact with your opponent.
    What an insidious tactic to use to influence those who find it difficult to vote for a black man. I sent the Obama campaign a small contribution today to show my confidence in this man's judgment.

    September 27, 2008 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  16. patrice

    Are you kidding me? NoBama didn't have anything on McCain – except for the fact that he said, "I agree with John." eight times.

    Let's be real people. Obama didn't answer any questions. He ummed his way through the debate and gave the old..."you're Bush" play too many times to make it matter.

    Secondly all Obama would say was, "I spoke out against the war when it wasn't popular." OLD news...move on – like Mccain said...were here now...what are we going to do. Obama doesn't have a clue. Open your eyes people.

    PS – read up on his global welare plan. America will sink into debt while "saving the poor countries." And if you know anything you will know that half of that money NEVER makes it to the poor.

    September 27, 2008 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  17. Cheryl A

    I was undecided, but I am going to vote for Obama. He is very intelligent, you can tell everything he says is well thought out, his background working with communities in Illinois, I feel, will benefit the American public. He really cares about our well being. And I also noticed how McCain did not want to make eye contact with Obama. I have seen on other comments and blogs the same, many people observed this also. I don't care for that. My father always told me to look the person in the eye when you speak. He told me to be cautious of someone speaking to you that avoids looking at you, they may not be trust worthy.

    September 27, 2008 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  18. Hillary 2012

    Really Obama had edge !!!!!!!!!!

    How many time Obama said John is right

    Same thing in primary debate he agree with Hillary

    Last night would have been big night for Obama he miss it

    Past 2 weeks Mc Cain have lot of problems economy ,Palin etc

    Obama should have hammer him last night he miss the chance

    September 27, 2008 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  19. PSK

    I watched the entire debate- which included several moments of that uncomfortable feeling one gets when another person is making a fool of themselves in public. I disagree greatly that Mr McCain held himself well. Many of his answers were actually sidesteps of fluff that never addressed the real issue. I became increasing tired of his repetitive rhetoric (reading directly from his notes) of: "I will fight for our Veterans, I have experience, My colleague is naive", and my favorites, "no more spending, and no dialoge with scum". Even an idiot knows that govenment MUST and WILL spend. As for his experience, I find it to be the type we have had for 8 years. Nothing new came out of that man's mouth. He was uncomfortable, obnoxious and pig-headed in his "stick to the old crap" views. His total inability to accept our position in Iraq was ludicrous. I tried to keep an open mind in this debate, but ended up seeing John McCain for the unintelligent buffoon that he is.
    I was heartened by Sen Obama's delivery. he was concise, informed, and had a firm grasp on reality. I appreciated VERY much his notion that we DIALOGUE with our enemies. He has the sense to understand that, without talk, there is no chance for peace. Mr. McCain clung to the Old Boy ideas of isolationist diplomacy- which, as we all know, has failed miserably for 8 years. I WANT the America that Sen Obama spoke of, BACK. I WANT the world to look to us for guidance and hope, as they did many years ago. With McCain, nothing will change- well, it just might get worse. I give Obama an A-, McCain a C-, and that's being generous John.
    To close I'll just say that I noticed the green line, or Independants- stayed pretty high on the grid for Obama- and dipped pretty low many times for McCain- the writing is on the wall.

    September 27, 2008 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  20. Chrissy

    My headline on the the debate? MCCAIN STEERS WHILE OBAMA SMEARS. Obama attacked last night and Mccain layed out his views and his positions for the most part. Obama made many attempt to rattle Mccain with this connections to bush and his repeated lies...confirmed by fact checks on alternative fuels but Mccain did not take the bait. I felft that Mccain was leading the topics much of the time while Obama tried to dragged him down with attacks. Both men showed some irritable moments but what interesting is that Mccain got irritable when he had to explained again why Obama is wrong on his foreign policy thinking. But Obama got irritable when he can't interrupt during Mccain's turn to talk. All I know is, I can see a president last night in Mccain and I saw a man trying to be presidential in Obama.

    September 27, 2008 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  21. edward langley pembroke ky 42266

    love the debate obama came out on top yes..............but nobody has asked the ?? why in the hell john mccain did not look at obama at all what he has a problem with his blackness come on cnn some body ask the ???

    September 27, 2008 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  22. Nimi from NY

    McCain appeared grumpy and contemtious. He hardly looked Obama's way not to talk of looking at him. I say it's either he desdains Obama or he hates black people. Obama on the other hand appeared cool and presidential but he needs to be a little more firy.

    September 27, 2008 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  23. James, Houston, TX

    A Win is a Win ! McCain You Lose. What do You See Now, Ruppert?

    September 27, 2008 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  24. sissy2004

    I must say that both senators did well, but with that being said, McCain always talks about experience and his 30 something years in government and Obama's 3 plus years, Senator McCain there is no way using your own words on experience that Senator Obama should have been able to stand toe to toe with you, especially on foreign policy. Senator Obama has proved himself to be a force to be reckoned with and I think this niave attitude of not having enough experience that senator clinton tried to pull in her campaign will also be McCain's downfall. You guys under estimate Senator Obama. Job well done senator Obama. I don't think your foreign policy knowledge will be questioned as much anymore and you sure laid those questions to rest for the American people. Good Job Senator Obama.

    Scary though to think about next weeks vp debate! I'm sure they will either replace Palin or come up with some excuse as to why she won't be able to attend.. scary

    September 27, 2008 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  25. No suprise from liberal media

    It comes at no surprise that the liberal media is picking OBama as the winner of the debate. His followers spend more wasteful time online in the polls while the McCain followers are sitting back and waiting for election day to make their voice heard. If you ignore Obama's well spoken manner and look at his substance it is clear to me that he will increase goverment spending and be ineffective in his plan on foreign policy.

    September 27, 2008 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
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