Obama Rated as Winner of Second Presidential Debate

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Debate watchers say Obama won by 56% to 23%

PRINCETON, NJ -- A one-night USA Today/Gallup reaction poll finds a random sample of debate watchers saying Barack Obama (56%) did a better job than John McCain (23%) in Tuesday's town hall debate.

The poll was conducted Oct. 8, the night after the debate at Belmont University in Nashville, in which Obama and McCain answered questions posed by a group of uncommitted voters. Sixty-six percent of Americans reported watching the debate, up from 63% for the first debate on Sept. 26.

Obama also was rated as the winner of the first presidential debate, though by a lesser margin (46% to 34%) than for the second presidential debate.

Gallup has measured public reaction to most presidential debates since 1960 -- either on the same night immediately after the debate or (as is true for the current results) in the first day(s) after the debate. More often than not, those who have watched the debate have rated the Democratic candidate as the winner, so Obama's perceived victories are not unusual from a historical perspective. However, his 56% to 23% victory for the most recent debate is one of the more decisive Gallup has measured, similar to Bill Clinton's wins in the 1992 town hall debate versus George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot, and in both 1996 debates versus Bob Dole.

While most who watched the debate say their opinions of Obama and McCain have not changed much, the movement that did occur tended to be in the positive direction for Obama and the negative direction for McCain.


The results for Obama are similar to what Gallup measured for him after the first debate (30% more favorable, 14% less favorable, 54% no change). But opinions of McCain seem to have deteriorated more after the second debate than after the first (21% more favorable, 21% less favorable, 56% no change).

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,004 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 8, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 735 national adults who watched the Oct. 7 presidential debate, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.




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