Undecideds: Obama Won Debate

The insta-polls and focus group results are in, and among undecided voters, it appears that Obama was seen as the winner of tonight’s debate.

For what it’s worth: The Frank Luntz and Stanley Greenberg focus groups went overwhelmingly for Obama. And a CBS poll of undecideds went for Obama 40%-22%.

Here’s the full breakdown of the CBS poll

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.

For my own part, I found it a surprisingly sober affair, and it was about as substantive as this format allows it to be, which is a credit to both candidates. Since nobody really made any major mistakes, that makes it a draw in my book. Which means that if you’ve already picked a candidate, you probably think that candidate won. That undecideds broke either for Obama or for a tie, though, can’t make the McCain campaign happy. He really needed a clearer win to break out, and it didn’t happen. Frankly, I’m surprised at that result–I would have thought it would have been a more even split between the candidates.

Update: Here’s video from Frank Luntz’s focus group:

John McCain’s biggest line of the night was about accountability for Wall Street. Obama’s biggest line of the night was pointing out that McCain was wrong about Iraq.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, , , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I notice you did not include Fox’s poll numbers. 81% McCain, 14% Obama. I guess if you choose to ignore the outright lies by Obama (He would invade Pakistan and what Kissenger said) then he did well. I guess it is easy to win a debate if you are not held to any standard of truth. Obamites do not seem to care this man lies like a rug.

  2. Alex Knapp says:


    Here’s what Kissinger said.

    I just checked Fox News and couldn’t find those numbers. Was it a poll of representative undecideds, like CBS’s poll? Do you have a link?

  3. Jafar says:

    Fox’s poll was a poll of viewers who could vote by text, if I saw it correctly.

  4. Brett says:

    Then it is not a poll so much as a pathetic waste of texting information. Those types of “polls” are completely inaccurate, since they are “self-reported” (meaning that only the people who were watching Fox and could be bothered to text in counted). It’s why Ron Paul always got such high ratings on self-reported Internet polls after the Republican primary debates.

    Personally, I think McCain did terribly on the economy, and poorly on Iran (he was forced to try to discredit Obama by effectively saying that Iran getting nuclear weapons put Israel in danger of a second holocaust, and by using increasingly graphic negative descriptions of Ahmadinejad in some kind of Argument to Incredulity”). He did much better on Iraq, where he effectively framed the argument and forced Obama to fight on his ground, and on Russia, where Obama offered nothing but a very watered-down version of McCain’s plan and frequently side-tracked into other issues.

  5. Polaris says:

    First of all while on line polls are worthless as polls they do reflect “buzz”. I also have to tell everyone that flash polls are essentially worthless, but for what it’s worth the SUSA flash poll indicates a McCain win (+1 IIRC overall with +4 IIRC with Indies).

    Secondly the Luntz focus groups are actually as “Independent” as Nancy Pelosi which is to say not at all. Simply listen to them and you’ll see what I mean. Remember in 2004, the same focus group had Edwards win the VP debate against Cheney when it turned out a couple days later that the actual result (for Indy voters anyway) was anything but that.

    Bottom line is we won’t know who “won” the debate for about three days because that’s how long it takes to filter into the polls.


    P.S. Can’t find the entire US SUSA flash poll but here is the poll for Washington State which is an Obama leaning state and it tells the tale. McCain won the Indies according to SUSA.


  6. Anon says:

    I should point out that there is a difference between undecided and independent.

  7. just me says:

    This is where I admit I gave up on the debate. About 9:40 I was too tired to stay up and I wasn’t hearing anything new.

    I thought both candidates failed to impress in the portion I saw, and if I had a vote I would vote it to be a tie.

    But I think a tie will likely favor Obama. McCain is behind and he needs to hit a home run, Obama just has to do well enough.

  8. rodney dill says:

    I found it a surprisingly sober affair, and it was about as substantive as this format allows it to be, which is a credit to both candidates. Since nobody really made any major mistakes, that makes it a draw in my book.

    I didn’t see the whole thing, but this pretty much sums it up for what I saw. Made it sort of painful to watch as neither came across as a smooth, eloquent debater.

  9. Patrick T McGuire says:

    I watched the whole thing and an hour of analysis afterwards. The best analysis I heard came from Charles Krauthammer on Fox who said it was a draw which makes Obama the winner.

    Personally, I thought it was a draw but several online polls I have seen show McCain way ahead. Drudge for instance has over 253K votes with McCain winning by 67%.

    But then, nothing else in this campaign makes any sense to me either.

  10. Floyd says:

    So how close is this, written on Wednesday?…

    Obama won last night’s debate handily by promising change, justice and equality along with fairness and only taxing the rich!! Isn’t he DREAMY??He just makes us SWOON! The Exit poll from the debate shows that anybody who votes against him is both stupid AND racist!””

    Now , you’ve read Saturday’s paper so let’s just skip the debate and get on with the election.

  11. rodney dill says:

    I guess the polls, if sustained, and eventually the election will in the end determine who really won the debates. Before all the commentary I’ve seen today I would’ve thought that a ‘push’ in any of the debates would’ve favored McCain as Obama has the smooth talking, charisma factor in his favor. Granted, Obama didn’t wet himself in public on a subject that is better known to McCain, but I fully expected for Obama to ‘look’ better to most people from the debating process in all the debates, regardless of subject.

    I’ve expected all along that McCain would have to find a way to win votes outside of the debates, so from my view a ‘push’ is pretty good news for McCain, but the polls, not the spin will provide the real verdict.

  12. bains says:

    Uncommitted voters include those who say they have a preference, but also say they could still change their minds.

    Uncommitted Obama supporters like Obama more than McCain.

  13. anjin-san says:

    The general level of whining from the right indicates an Obama win. It was a very narrow one on points, but its all he needed. McCain is tanking and badly needed a big win.

    Palin remains in hiding.

  14. Bithead says:

    Palin remains in hiding.


    Earlier this week the networks threw a major tantrum when the McCain campaign tried to limit their access to Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s meetings with foreign officials.

    Today, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden met with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and completely excluded the press.


    The Associated Press and other media outlets reacted with alarm when the McCain camp kept reporters from attending a photo opportunity with Sarah Palin and foreign leaders at the U.N. on Tuesday. AP reporter Sara Kugler wrote that reporters were banned “so as not to risk a question being asked of Palin.”The McCain camp later relented, but there was no concern by the AP in July when Barack Obama conducted similar closed-door meetings with European leaders.

    And by the way, the Center for Responsive Politics reports Kugler donated to the liberal 527 group America Coming Together (ACT) during the 2004 campaign. Kugler gave $342 to the now-defunct voter registration group. ACT closed up shop after being fined $775,000 by the Federal Elections Commission in 2007 for violations of federal campaign finance laws.

    Heh. A laughable attempt on your part to punch up Obama talking points, disproved by your candidiates own attitudes and actions. Do keep trying, though, Anjin… you almost had a real live rant going, there.

  15. anjin-san says:

    Sure Bit sure, I am a ranter grasping at straws. That explains why conservative columnists are in a near panic about Palin’s performance (or lack thereof) with some even calling for her removal from the ticket.

    As for Biden. excluding the press from one event, that’s sort of the point. It was one event. Any top tier reporter can get Biden to talk on the record or go on camera with a phone call. None can do the same with Palin. She had a near total meltdown in a cream-puff interview with Katie Couric. ‘Nuff said…

  16. rodney dill says:

    The general level of excuses and sidestepping from the left indicates a McCain win. It was a very narrow one on points, but its all he needed. Obama is tanking and badly needed a big win.

  17. anjin-san says:

    Rodney, do try and do some creative thinking of your own one of these days. Copying from the other kids is poor form, even if you do change the wording around.

    Of course if you can produce a poll or two that actually show Obama tanking…

  18. Bithead says:

    IS what you’re doing, Anjin, ‘creative thinking’? As in “Fantasy”?

    As for copying from other kids, I’d watch that charge if I were you, when you demonstrably cut and paste talking points, without even giving them much consideration… as I point out elsewhere…

  19. KVC says:

    I have a real problem with anyone who at this stage of life and the election, does not have enough moral or social barrings to lead them a direction and chooses to be called an undecided. It is real scary if the fate of the country is in their hands. Who or what is going to push these people to one side or the other, Leno, Springsteen, Damon, or the NY Times or ABC? It will not be an specific “issue” at this point. I guess it is no different than a party member who would vote for Hitler rather than to vote for a republican or a democrat.

  20. Dave Schuler says:

    I think we should be cautious about relying too heavily on the results of this particular poll. Based on the description at the link, the results were pretty evenly divided among “Obama won”, “McCain won” and “Draw” with “Draw” and “Obama won” being within the margin of error of each other.

    Additionally, I found no way to determine whether the poll was of people who self-identified as both uncommitted and registered voters or registered voters who self-identified as uncommitted. The poll does not seem to be of likely voters.

    So, basically, much ado about nothing.

  21. anjin-san says:

    when you demonstrably cut and paste talking points

    By all means, demonstrate…

  22. Bithead says:

    Well, for example… did yuou happen to actually read the whole of the poll you’re citing?

    Based on your comments, I don’t imagine you’ve bothered going beyond CNN’s headlines. You seem unable to read down so far as to find things that defeat your arguments, as with another thread. Had you bothered in this case, you’d have found:

    The results may be favoring Obama simply because more Democrats than Republicans tuned in to the debate. Of the debate-watchers questioned in this poll, 41 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Democrats, 27 percent as Republicans and 30 percent as independents.

    They go on.

    “It can be reasonably concluded, especially after accounting for the slight Democratic bias in the survey, that we witnessed a tie in Mississippi tonight,” CNN Senior Political Researcher Alan Silverleib said. “But given the direction of the campaign over the last couple of weeks, a tie translates to a win for Obama.”

    Like I said… some people require actual effort to defeat. You don’t.

  23. Bithead says:

    Here’s a question to the room;

    When’s the last election CBS polling didn’t lean toward the Democrat?

    Bonus: Isn’t it interesting that CBS provides none of the internals?

  24. anjin-san says:

    Well, for example… did yuou happen to actually read the whole of the poll you’re citing?

    Bit, please show where in this thread I cited a poll…

    Either learn how to read, or go hang out with the slow kids.

    BTW Thanks for the demonstration. You have demonstrated you are not very bright, but then again, I already knew that.

  25. Bithead says:

    Bit, please show where in this thread I cited a poll…


    The general level of whining from the right indicates an Obama win. It was a very narrow one on points, but its all he needed.

    You’re citing a narrow win here. Based on…. what, exactly?

    Oh, I see… you’re just stirring the pot.
    Again, you’re not worth my time.

  26. anjin-san says:

    Well, for example… did yuou happen to actually read the whole of the poll you’re citing?

    Bit, please show where in this thread I cited a poll…


    Tell me bit, can you tie your own shoes, or do you need help? No wonder you think Palin is cool…

  27. Rick Almeida says:

    Here’s a question to the room;

    When’s the last election CBS polling didn’t lean toward the Democrat?

    Since Obama has been ahead of McCain in most national polls though this election cycle, I googled “CBS polling 2004”, and on 23 Sep 2004 they reported a 50/41 Bush lead. Indeed, Bush led in a large majority of the CBS polls I could find quickly. Makes sense, since Bush won pretty handily.

    So then I got curious and wanted to see if CBS ever had McCain ahead of Obama this cycle.

    On Sep. 4, CBS had McCain and Obama tied at 42% each. Most polls have shown an Obama lead for most of the cycle, so while McCain could very well win, it is not at all unusual for any poll to show an Obama lead.

    I went to RCP, Pollster, and Fivethirtyeight, and it does not look like CBS has been doing a lot of polling this cycle. I could find 2 national polls from September, but didn’t bother to dig backwards.

  28. anjin-san says:

    A new USA Today/Gallup Poll shows 46% of people who watched Friday night’s presidential debate say Sen. Barack Obama did a better job than Sen. John McCain; 34% said McCain did better.

    Must be more of that vast left wing conspiracy

    PS… bit, this is what citing a poll, is. Please take notes.

  29. James M. says:

    I’m an independent and what I saw was nothing really impressive. It looks like a tie to me but, that is also a loss for McCain in my opinion. McCain really needed to stand out especially after the whole stopping the campaign to work on the financial crisis thing. It would appear to me McCain either needed to perform some miracle either with the financial crisis or stand out in the debate to gain some points but, it seems he did neither. So if I were him I would be trying a new strategy to attract the attention of the independent voter. As it stands right now I am still leaning his way but, if Obama can clarify some of his positions on issues such as the Second Amendment, abortion, national security, and border safety then I could be have an affirmative position. But every time I turn around he is changing his position so at this point even though I don’t agree totally with McCain I at least know where he stands. I look at it this way I will probably get 75% of what I am looking for from McCain and 40-50% from Obama so I am probably going with McCain at this point.