After watching Tuesday’s presidential debate, more members of a group of undecided Las Vegas voters thought Democrat Barack Obama won than his opponent, Republican John McCain, and many made up their minds to vote for Obama.
A national polling firm brought together 50 white voters between the ages of 30 and 60 at an office in Henderson and equipped them with electronic devices allowing them to indicate their positive or negative responses to the debate as it unfolded.
The idea was to take the temperature of a representative group of swing-state voters reacting to the second matchup between the two candidates as the election nears.
“The big thing that happened here is the break of these voters for Obama over McCain in their vote preference,” said pollster Stan Greenberg, head of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the firm that conducted the “dial-test” group for Democracy Corps, a Democratic political strategy firm that is not working with a presidential campaign.
“That did not happen in the first debate,” he said.
Although all members of the panel considered themselves basically undecided going into the debate, 4 percent said they’d probably vote for McCain. After the debate, 26 percent had made up their minds to vote for the Republican.
Those saying they’d vote for Obama went from 8 percent of the panel to 42 percent.
Thirty-eight percent of the panelists thought Obama won, versus 30 percent for McCain.
The debate also prompted a “dramatic shift in favorability” in terms of how the panelists saw Obama, Greenberg said. Both candidates improved in the voters’ estimation, but Obama gained markedly more.
McCain went from being seen favorably by 48 percent to getting a good rating from 56 percent; Obama’s favorability went from 43 percent to a whopping 80 percent of the panelists.
“There was almost no shift in favorable responses to McCain,” Greenberg said. “He’s just not wearing well with intense exposure, whereas Obama wears very well.”
The percentages of panelists who thought Obama has what it takes to be president, is independent and can be trusted to make the right decision all increased, while the percentage who believed Obama was too liberal declined very slightly.
“There’s no doubt in the key strategic task of the McCain campaign, to drive the perception that Obama is too liberal, in fact he did not succeed,” Greenberg said.
McCain did not see much change in his personal characteristics, Greenberg said: The percentage who thought he was too tied to special interests remained at about two-thirds. The percentage who believed him to be a maverick and someone who would take a different direction than President Bush went up a tick; the percentage who found him too eager to go to war was unchanged.
In both this debate and the one before it, Greenberg said, Obama improved in voters’ eyes on national security and foreign policy. McCain gained ground in this debate on the issues of health care, retirement and social security, but still lagged far behind Obama in terms of who they thought was the better candidate on those topics.
After the debate, Obama led McCain on health care, 56 percent to 18 percent, up from 58-8 for Obama beforehand.
The group reacted strongly to the discussion on health care, and Greenberg said he wouldn’t be surprised to hear more about that from the candidates.
Greenberg counseled caution at reading much into a small group of respondents, but noted that the firm’s focus group after the first presidential debate came to conclusions that were then borne out universally in subsequent polling.
For privacy reasons, members of the panel weren’t available to be interviewed.