Poll: Debate Divide

Viewers of the second presidential debate divided on who won, with partisans overwhelmingly pointing to their guy — another indication of the hardened positions in this tight presidential race.

Among registered voters who watched the debate, 44 percent called John Kerry the winner, 41 percent said President Bush won and 13 percent called it a tie. That three-point difference between Kerry and Bush is within the poll's margin of error.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

That's a bit of a comedown for Kerry from the first debate, which viewers by a nine-point margin, 45 percent to 36 percent, said he won.


Who Won?
10/8/04
Kerry44%
Bush41
Tie13

About equal numbers of partisans tuned in to the debate in St. Louis — 35 percent were Democrats, 32 percent Republicans and 29 percent independents. And few minds were changed: Viewers divided 50 percent to 47 percent between Kerry and Bush before the debate — and an almost identical 50 percent to 48 percent after it. That's customarily the case in immediate post-debate polls; debates, at least in the first blush, tend more to reinforce pre-existing perceptions than to change them.


Vote Preference Among Viewers
CandidateBefore Debate After Debate
Kerry50% 50
Bush47 48
Nader.5 .5

This poll was conducted only among registered voters who watched the debate, in order to measure their opinion of who won. Debate watchers are a different group than all registered or likely voters nationally.

Among Kerry supporters, 85 percent said he won the debate; among Bush supporters, 84 percent said Bush won. Almost no one on either side gave the win to the candidate they opposed.


Who Won?
Kerry Bush Tie
Among Kerry Supporters85% 2 12
Among Bush Supporters1 84 13

In terms of political allegiance, the 35 percent-32 percent Democratic-Republican division among debate watchers was similar to the even 35 percent-35 percent division among views of the first presidential debate last week. The audience for Tuesday night's vice presidential debate, by contrast, was a bit more Republican, 38 percent-31 percent.

In tonight's debate, 77 percent of Democrats called Kerry the winner and an identical 77 percent of Republicans called Bush the winner. Independents divided by 44 percent to 34 percent between Kerry and Bush; however, that is within the margin of sampling error for the number of independents surveyed.

UP NEXT -- So far none of the debates has resulted in as decisive a win as Bush scored in the second presidential debate in 2000, when viewers picked him over Al Gore as the winner by a 16-point margin, 46-30 percent, partly because that debate drew a more Republican audience. Bush and Gore essentially drew their first and third debates.

Bush and Kerry meet for their third and final debate Wednesday in Tempe, Ariz.

Methodology

This survey was conducted by telephone among a random-sample panel of 515 registered voters who watched the presidential debate. Respondents were initially interviewed Oct. 5-7. The results have a 4.5-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.

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