A lot of people think the debate was pretty even. Obama supporters liked Obama, McCain supporters liked McCain, I assume (that is utterly obvious). But what matters is the effect on uncommitted voters. Aside from the effects of the three major gaffs that McCain made (the cost to him, to his party, and to our nation yet to be determined), the uncommitted voter reaction is the most important outcome of the debate. Now, we have the first indication of what this reaction was.

This is from a CBS/Knowledge Networks poll, the first major poll to come out regarding last nights debate. (PDF of poll is here)

Among uncommitted voters, given the question “Who won the debate?” we get:

Obama 39%
McCain 24%
Tie 37%

Given that Obama is currently a little bit ahead of McCain in the polls, this does not change things, but it does potentially strengthen Obama’s position.

Again, among uncommitted voters, given the question of how the debate changed opinion of each candidate, the shift was, again, in Obama’s favor:

Better opinion 46% for Obama, 32% for McCain
Worse opinion 8% for Obama, 21% for McCain
No change 46-7 percent for all viewers.

In other words, the candidates shifted in “approval rating” among half the voters, with Obama picking up somewhat more positive than McCain, but McCain picking up a MUCH LARGER negative than Obama. That may answer the question: Did McCain’s refusal to look Obama in the eye and his generally dyspeptic attitude drag him down?

According to the poll, the improvement in Obama’s rating came because people were favorably impressed with his poise and knowledge of issues. McCain, it was felt, was not doing a good job of controlling himself under pressure, seemed angry and bad tempered, and talked too much about the past.

On the war in Iraq, somewhat more of these uncommitted voters tended to think that McCain would be more likely to make the right decisions than Obama. The reverse trend wast true, however, for the economy (which is acknowledged as the major issue at the present moment).

One of the biggest shifts resulting from the debate on the issue of who is most prepared to be president.

Is Obama prepared to be president? (Yes/No in percent)

Before the debate: 44/53
After the debate: 60/39

Is McCain prepared to be president? 79/20
After the debate: 78/21

No change for McCain, big move for Obama. McCain’s performance did not have an effect, Obama’s made a huge difference.

The bottom line question is, “who do you prefer to be president, even though you are uncommitted?”

Before the debate, it was Obama (36%) over McCain (34%). Very close.

After the debate, it was Obama (41%) over McCain (29%). Not too close.

Meanwhile, among the uncommitted voters, nearly a third do not express an opinion on this preference. Those, I suppose, are the Uncommitted Uncommitted.

More here


  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    September 27, 2008

    I think (I hope) that one big thing that the debates will do for uncommitted voters is get them used to being around Obama. The Republicans have made so much of the “He’s not like you and me” trope. Demonizing Obama is much harder when people have just spent ninety minutes with him.

    I don’t think it does the same for McCain, both because he’s more of a known quantity and because much of the demonizing there has been about his temper and temperament, which shows in debates.

  2. #2 Andrew
    September 27, 2008

    So it was a crash and burn job after all.

  3. #3 TimJ
    September 27, 2008

    There is nothing more dangerous than an uncommitted uncommitted person. You should see them try to cross the street. It’s very funny.

  4. #4 the other joel
    September 27, 2008

    Stephanie Z: So you are saying the “It turns out he’s not too scary for a black guy” message is getting out there?

  5. #5 AliceB
    September 27, 2008

    Despite these numbers, main stream media is still insisting that there was no clear winner, or more exactly, they are insisting that they need to do a lot more talking about who won. Why am I not surprised by this?

  6. #6 Robert_V
    September 27, 2008

    The real winners and losers of this debate were the American People. Who won and lost.

  7. #7 foPH
    September 27, 2008

    I am not at all surprized at the result that the biggest effect was McCain’s neg’s going up. You’d have to luv the guy to not see him as a squirming icky-faced old guy who did not want to be there. Who was wrong about everything important.

  8. #8 horace
    September 27, 2008

    I want to see a debate where a panel of experts gets to zap the dog collar whenever a debater lies.

  9. #9 greg laden
    September 27, 2008

    One commenter today mentioned that McCain was wearing the wrong tie. I looked again. It is true. Go look at the guy’s tie. Wow.

  10. #10 Bob O'H
    September 27, 2008

    Thanks for the analysis. I guess from Obama’s point of view it’s a case of “job done”. It looks like he’s persuaded the electorate (or a decent proportion of it) that he is capable of handling the job of being president.

    TimJ – yes, but it’s a bummer if you’re trying to run them over.

  11. #11 TimJ
    September 27, 2008

    Sometimes the most random strategy is the best strategy.

  12. #12 Steve
    September 27, 2008

    It is amazing that this bog is talking about everything except the substance of the candidates positions. I don’t care about McCain’s tie; nor do I care about what or how uncommitted voters ‘feel’.

    This contest is about larger government intervention in our lives (Obama) vs slightly less government intervention in our lives (McCain).

    Neither candidate seems to have a clue about the Constitutional limits that are placed on the Federal Govenrment, so all we can hope for is less and smaller vs big and bigger.

  13. #13 Grammar RWA
    September 27, 2008

    This contest is about larger government intervention in our lives (Obama) vs slightly less government intervention in our lives (McCain).

    This isn’t the 1980s, and your Reagan talking points don’t apply.

    Obama significantly lowers taxes for 95% of Americans. That’s not intervention.

    Obama’s health care plan is voluntary for all Americans, and anyone can opt in or opt out at their choice.

    McCain said last night he wants to divert all revenue toward “national security and the military.” That’s a police state.

    McCain wants to tell doctors that they are not permitted to perform safe medical operations on women.

    McCain wants to tax your employer-provided health care as income.

    Palin wants to use the public educational system as an Evangelical Christian indoctrination vector.

    Obama’s plans are solidly in line with the Bill of Rights. McCain’s are based on the Ashcroft/Gonzales reinterpretation of “freedom.”

  14. #14 MikeB
    September 27, 2008

    McCain may want less government intervention in your life, but this has had the unfortunate side effect of potentially far less in your 401k.

    So who for less intervention?

  15. #15 D'oh!
    September 27, 2008

    This contest is about larger government intervention in our lives (Obama) vs slightly less government intervention in our lives (McCain).

    Who sez? It certainly isn’t what I think this contest is about.

    I have somewhat different concerns. For example: which candidate is likely to show reckless poor judgment and get us into another expensive, useless war?

    But even if I bought your framing of the contest, as woman I’d have to disagree with your conclusion. McCain deliberately chose a running mate who would interfere in my life in the most intimate and outrageous way. She’d favor laws that force me to bear a child even if I was raped. Now, THAT’S intervention.

  16. #16 eddie
    September 27, 2008

    A bit OT but I’m presently watcing a Timewatch documentary on the ‘blue stones’ of stonehenge.
    A mix of archaeology and CSI but seems to be pushing the idea that blue stones ‘healing power’ is real.
    Maybe its excusable for neolithic folk to be so delusional but not in 21st century.
    Science used to support delusion is nauseating.

  17. #17 Andrew
    September 27, 2008

    I think what we are talking about on this blog is the outcome of the debate. Although I can understand why a McCain supporter would want to distract attention away from this outcome.

  18. #18 Science Avenger
    September 27, 2008

    Hey Steve, do you suppose any of the Katrina victims want less government in their lives? Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but we tried less government in the financial markets, and look where it got us. And our less-government health care system flunks all the world standards for health care.

    Anyone who wants to pretend that the religious wackaloon segment of the Republican party doesn’t effect their whole way of thinking should look at this little chanting of GOP lore from the Steves of the world. I’ll bet he’ll still insist, in the face of three recordbreaking GOP presidential deficits, that they are the party of fiscal responsibility too. There’s your faith-based government in action.

  19. #19 AliceB
    September 27, 2008

    It takes a lot of faith to believe in that kind of government.

  20. #20 Virgil Samms
    September 27, 2008

    Neither candidate seems to have a clue about the Constitutional limits that are placed on the Federal Government…

    Bwa ha ha! One of the two candidates has taught constitutional law at a prestigious law school. Why don’t you go read some basic background info before continuing that line of discussion.

  21. #21 Andrew
    September 27, 2008

    Maybe this is a case of “if you can’t do, teach” …

    then … “if you can’t teach, be president….”

    .. no, probably not.

  22. #22 jeff
    September 27, 2008

    http://www.StopObamaExpress.com Listen to Obama in his own words. Go McCain Palin

  23. #23 Coriolis
    September 27, 2008

    And yet the immediate reaction on MSNBC, the supposed liberal maniacs, was that Mccain won although not by much (I think only one guy said otherwise). I guess that’s not actually surprising.

  24. #24 David Marjanovi?
    September 27, 2008

    McCain wants to tax your employer-provided health care as income.

    Wow. 😮 He’s even dumber than I already knew.

  25. #25 Virgil Samms
    September 27, 2008

    Last night McCain continued to belittle a study of bears in Montana which uses DNA identification technology. Shame on him.

  26. #26 Stephanie Z
    September 27, 2008

    other joel: “Not a scary, angry black man.” “Not a wild-eyed mullah.” “Not a cold, inhuman elitist.” Not any of a half dozen other contradictory, hinted-at but rarely stated ideas that have been thrown out there.

    Although that isn’t really a message that can be put out, which is why people seeing Obama for more than a clip on the news is important. Watching him for that period of time doesn’t so much argue against all the anti-Obama messages as it makes them look kind of silly.

  27. #27 Abbie
    September 28, 2008

    This contest is about larger government intervention in our lives (Obama) vs slightly less government intervention in our lives (McCain).

    This line of reasoning might have worked, until McCain sold out to the fundies and Palin joined the ticket. I would respect your libertarian selfishness as your own selfish opinion, but now it’s just dangerous. Anyone who would vote for a ticket that contains Sarah Palin is a horrible, horrible person.