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September 26, 2008

Presidential hopefuls Senators John McCain and Barack Obama debated in Mississippi
(OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI) -- Just a week into America’s most dangerous financial system crisis since the Great Depression, millions of Americans gathered around television sets from Maine to Monroe, Washington this evening to watch two men debate over which man is better suited to lead the United States as President in these troubled times.

According to a CBS News/Knowledge Networks' poll of undecided voters who watched tonight’s historic debate between Presidential hopefuls Senators Barack Obama and John McCain:

~ 40% of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. 22% thought John McCain won. 38% saw it as a draw.

~ 68% of these voters think Obama would make the right decision about the economy. 41% think McCain would.

~ 49% of these voters think Obama would make the right decisions about Iraq. 55% think McCain would.

This event marks the third consecutive presidential election in which CBS News has teamed with Knowledge Networks (KN) to measure the effects of presidential debates on viewers. KN has also measured reaction to State of the Union speeches for CBS News.

In each case, KN has asked members of a KnowledgePanel ® -- the only online panel derived from a statistically valid sample of the full U.S. population -- for their views both before and after the event. The survey results portend to show the extent to which viewing the debate has impacted voters' attitudes.

Unlike volunteer online access panels, which anyone can join, KnowledgePanel ® is representative of the U.S. population because participants are chosen through statistically valid sampling. Non-Internet consumers can participate in KnowledgePanel ® by being provided with a personal computer or an MSN-TV unit, as well as free connectivity. The result is research that purportedly includes the roughly 30% of the U.S. population that is not Internet-enabled -- a percentage that has remained stable for several years.

And a quick survey of bloggers around the country reveal that John McCain’s perceived condescending and at times sarcastic demeanor toward senator Obama during the debate may have been a turn off to many swing voters.

Blogger Linda Sharp (http://dontgetmestarted-lindasharp.typepad.com/dont_get_me_started_on_po/2008/09/no-debating-thi.html -
voted "Best Blogger in Humor Category" by Blogger's Choice Awards - may have summed up a number of blogger reviews when she wrote:

“When the word "A*****E" showed up six separate times in my notes, I knew that the visceral reaction I was having regarding John McCain’s less than presidential behavior could not be unique to me. He oozed disrespect, contempt, rancor, anger, and condescended every time he spoke, not just to Barack Obama, but also to every person watching the debate. He wouldn't so much as look at Obama, and his body language spoke volumes. Obama, on the other hand, demonstrated control, calm, confidence, reason, and rationale.”

In the Washington Monthly’s “Political Animal” blog Steve Benen writes “I was a little surprised at the contempt McCain showed for Obama, refusing to even look at Obama during the debate. It was the height of arrogance -- McCain's not-so-subtle message was that he didn't even want to be on the same stage with his rival. I lost count of how many times he said Obama "doesn't understand" an issue, even when it was obvious that it was McCain who was confused.”

One interesting analysis is from "The Plank" at The New Republic, arguing that the pundits don’t understand why voters put Obama ahead: “TPM has the internals of the CNN poll of debate-watchers, which had Obama winning overall by a margin of 51-38.

The poll suggests that Obama is opening up a gap on connectedness, while closing a gap on readiness.

Specifically, by a 62-32 margin, voters thought that Obama was “more in touch with the needs and problems of people like you”. This is a gap that has no doubt grown because of the financial crisis of recent days.

But it also grew because Obama was actually speaking to middle class voters. Per the transcript, McCain never once mentioned the phrase “middle class” (Obama did so three times). And Obama’s eye contact was directly with the camera, i.e. the voters at home. McCain seemed to be speaking literally to the people in the room in Mississippi, but figuratively to the punditry.

It is no surprise that a small majority of pundits seemed to have thought that McCain won, even when the polls indicated otherwise; the pundits were his target audience.”

But other bloggers both home and abroad thought McCain’s experience won the day. Writing in Great Britain’s newspaper the Telegraph, Gerald Warner says” the honours in the first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama went to McCain.

Considering his inexperience, it was to Obama's credit that he sustained a relatively even performance with his veteran opponent for much of the debate, but it was experience that told in the end. Obama looked like a bright, aspiring young congressman in his first month on Capitol Hill being taught the ropes by an avuncular senior…and he very effectively nailed Obama for his support for almost $1 billion in "earmark" spending.

McCain had the advantage in that most of the debate related to foreign affairs. Over the past couple of weeks we have heard Democrat partisans mocking Sarah Palin for being unraveled, though she is only the vice-presidential candidate. Last night John McCain ruthlessly exposed how geopolitically untravelled Obama is. As one crucial foreign policy hotspot after another came into focus, a consistent factor emerged: McCain had been there, got the tee-shirt - and Obama had not…and in his key objective - to tie McCain in with the discredited Bush administration - Obama signally failed.”

And John Pitney Jr., writing on the website of the conservative National Review Online, thought Mr. McCain won the debate. "If appearances alone decided the debate's winner, then John McCain won," he wrote. "His energetic demeanor helped dampen concerns that he is too old for the job. Obama, on the other hand, did not come across as the candidate of cool. His expression alternated between a scowl and what Raymond Chandler called "that plastic smile people wear when they are trying not to scream".

And the Los Angeles Times used a panel of 14 undecided voters, including registered Republicans, Democrats and independents, who were more persuaded by Mr. McCain.

"Six of the 14 voters said they were more likely to vote for McCain after the 90-minute session, and four said the same of Obama," an article in the newspaper said. "Four said they remained unswayed. Five said they thought McCain had won the debate, versus two for Obama."

And in contrast to the views of top media pundits, more of the Los Angeles Times focus group thought Mr. McCain was more convincing on the economy.



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