Obama wins debate

Well, yeah, I would say that. Both campaigns are claiming victory too. So why do I say Obama won?

It’s not as simple as who was on the offensive most, as some (generally Republican) commentators think. McCain was on the offensive more, and Obama missed some opportunities to push substantive points. Often, however, the lasting effect comes from the almost subliminal — subliminable if you’re the President — messages picked up by the watchers from the body language and general demeanour of the debaters.

There is evidence that voters perceived Obama as winning. In a CNN poll of more than 500 US voters (4.5% margin of error), a large majority (51% to 38%) of Americans say Obama was the victor (“Who did the best job in the debate?”). He was also considered better able to handle the economy (58% to 37%) and Iraq (52% to 47%).

Further, a CBS poll of undecided voters who watched the debate found 40% thought Obama won, 22% thought McCain and 38% thought it a tie. Of those  uncommitted voters polled, 46% said their opinion of Obama got better tonight, and 32% said their opinion of McCain got better. Like the CNN poll, 68% voters thought Obama would make the right decision about the economy, to 41% for McCain. But 48% thought Obama would make the right decisions about Iraq to 56% for McCain.

If this judgement holds up in the other polls (and given the margins I can’t see why it shouldn’t) then this is a major victory for Obama. Those who thought it a fairly even contest may be influenced by the poll findings and the overall judgement come out in Obama’s favour.

At another level it’s a clear victory for Obama. He is ahead in the polls and arguably only needed to put up a good showing and avoid gaffes. But his major hurdle in this election is the lingering doubts some democrats and independents have about his readiness. He looked presidential. Very presidential. Best of all, he held his own with an experienced adversary who was playing on his own turf — foreign affairs.

Readiness was the main line of Republican attack, and it failed. Miserably. McCain even managed to anagonise the unaligned “independent” voters in one focus group by being so patronising.

Remember, debates have only a very small immediate effect, unless there is a major “sound-bite” blunder. Neither candidate blundered. but McCain needed to win, gave it all he had, and Obama walked away looking presidential. Something he needs to do.


Steve Pierson at the Standard is a little harsh on McCain, who came into his own on foreign affairs. But Steve’s not too far off the mark.

Oh, and can one of the righties explain how the likelihood of a new terrorist attack could be “much less than the day after 9/11?” Since there wasn’t a terrorist attack on the day after 9/11, the possibility of an attack on that day must be zero…

Another focus group, of 45 undecideds in Missouri (heavily weighted with 2004 Bush voters), reacted along similar lines to the polls and focus group described above.

And a USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 46% of people who watched the debate say Obama did a better job than McCain; 34% said McCain did better.

Also 53% of a SurveyUSA poll of 693 Californian debate watchers thought Obama won compared to 30% for McCain. Of these, Republicans said 2:1 McCain won , Democrats said 8:1 Obama won and independents were split:

“California debate watchers say Obama understands Iraq better, Obama understands Iran better, Obama understands Russia better. Debate watchers trust Obama materially more on the economy, thought Obama looked materially more presidential, and by 2:1 thought McCain looked more tired.”


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9 Responses to “Obama wins debate”

  1. pacer521 Says:

    i agree.


  2. AndrewE Says:

    Obama is just so more credible as a candidate. He looked – dare I say it – presidential.

  3. MikeG Says:

    The BBC have a headline “McCain wins on points?” so it would seem that it wasn’t totally clear-cut.

    I didn’t see the debate, but was surprised to read in the summaries that Obama’s experience was attacked by McCain (with Palin on his ticket). I guess it must be all those foreign aircraft that overfly Alaska that give that ticket experience.

    It was also reported that he was proud of his involvement in foreign policy decisions in the last 8 years – I wouldn’t have thought that those decisions have a record to be proud of!

  4. Redbaiter Says:

    Amazing isn’t it, that grown people can post opinions everywhere on such issues, (who won the debate) and apparently regard such subjective nonsense as being the equal of proven fact?

    Given the left would always be so intent on out voting the right, and have been known to hack on line polls in order to achieve this objective, the two to one (out of around 300,000 votes) support for McCain that has run all day on the Drudge Report


    must mean there’s some pretty universal disagreement with the CNN “poll”.

    BTW, I don’t understand your bewilderment on the “day after 9/11” issue. I’m no shill for that disgrace McCain, but his meaning is quite clear to me. He’s saying that America’s commitment to a preemptive war on terrorism, heightened internal security, and the defeat of Al Qaida in Iraq and Afghanistan has made a terrorist attack in the US today a lot less likely than one might have been on 9/12 or any of the days directly after that date. What’s hard about that??

    Redbaiter, Yep, there is a lot of tosh out there being posted and broadcast and printed about the debate and “who won.” I’m sure you appreciate that I’m attempting to go beyond the “who won” approach, which is subjective and misses the point anyway — title of post notwithstanding. Rather, I’m trying to analyse the effect in terms of how the impressions that people get — which vary hugely by partisanship — play to the evolving narratives in the campaign. These effects may not show up straight away, but could prove important in a tightly fought race as at present. The effect of Nixon’s five o’clock shadow on the TV audience in 1960?

    PS, My point about the likelihood of a new terrorist attack being “much less than the day after 9/11″ is that this means it must be less than zero, which is impossible.

  5. jafapete Says:

    Thanks for your comments.

    MikeG, From the BBC’s correspondent on the spot:

    “… here is my answer [to the question, “Who won?”]. It agrees with a quick straw poll I took among the colleagues I followed the exchanges with, but it is my own judgement. I would say the two candidates finished more or less even on the issue of the economy… But in the foreign policy section of the debate, it seemed to me John McCain emerged a clear winner, although there were individual issues like Iraq on which the Democratic contender more or less held his own.”

    This is not inconsistent with my reading of the debate if you look at it simply in terms of scoring the substantive points won and lost.

    But that completely misses the point. A more-or-less tied debate won’t have any lasting effect on opinion amongst the already converted. But to the extent that it reinforces or challenges the narratives, or provides a meme for the media (think Gore) it might have an impact, even if it doesn’t show up in early polling.

    In this instance, Obama walked away looking more presidential. He strengthened the impression he wanted to strengthen and weakened the Republican attack on his readiness. McCain looked patronising and irrascible. That he wouldn’t even look Obama in the eye was striking. I doubt that he wanted to feed the narrative that he’s a grumpy old man.

    In these terms, Obama came off the best from the debate.

  6. Stephen Says:

    This is just copied from the Dim-Post, which in turn was taken from the article by Jamie Fallow at The Atlantic:

    The truths of debates are these:

    * Emotional messages, which are variants on “how do I feel about this person?”, are all that matter in presidential debates. Issues discussions are significant mainly to the extent they shape these impressions. For instance: a candidate’s view on the economy feeds the impression of whether he sympathizes with “people like me.” Or views on foreign policy feed the impression on whether he would be “a leader we can trust.”
    * Barring a truly disastrous performance, each side’s partisans will think their candidate did well, and will be reinforced in the reasons for supporting the person they already like. Thus John McCain supporters will think he sounded confident and masterful; Obama supporters will think he kept presenting the big-picture perspective on national security and the economy. Which means therefore:
    * The audience that matters is people who start out undecided or uncertain — and finally are looking for emotional reassurance about who they can imagine as president for the next four years. In general, such viewers are only now starting to pay serious attention to the campaign — in contrast to people already committed to helping (or stopping) one of the candidates. That is why the first debate is a unique “re-launch” opportunity for the candidates to present themselves to people who realize it’s time to make up their minds.


  7. Stephen Says:

    The middle one seems the more relevant though, I must say.

  8. toms Says:

    After squirming my way through the CBS interview, I think the Biden/Palin debate has the potential to be truly disastrous for the Republicans. Less important than here apparent appalling ignorance was Palin’s appearance of brittleness under pressure. If she merely repeats her CBS performance it is very bad news for the GOP ticket. If she cracks and makes some true howlers in debate with Biden, it is game over.

    Toms, Don’t underestimate Palin’s debating ability. Apparently her debating performance played a part in her getting to be governor with limited experience. All she has to do is stay on her feet and not make a huge gaffe. Don’t expect her to discuss many specifics. But it would be very difficult for McCain-Palin to turn things around now anyway, even given the volatile nature of things stateside right now.

  9. StephenR Says:

    Drinking game based on how many times Biden mentions Alaska being close to Russia?

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