Poll: Last Presidential Debate Is a Draw

Sen. John Kerry and President Bush battled to another draw in their last debate of the 2004 campaign, with perhaps more bragging rights to Kerry, since more Republicans tuned in.

Among registered voters who watched the debate, 42 percent called Kerry the winner, 41 percent said Bush won and 14 percent called it a tie. That's similar to the outcome of the second debate, while Kerry won the first among viewers by a nine-point margin.

The audience for the third debate was a bit more Republican in its allegiance: Among viewers, 38 percent identified themselves as Republicans, 30 percent as Democrats and 28 percent as independents. That makes the draw more of an accomplishment for Kerry.

It occurred in part because Democrats who watched were more apt to stand by their man. Among Democratic viewers, 81 percent called Kerry the winner, and 5 percent said Bush won; among Republicans who watched, 73 percent said it was Bush's win, and 12 percent gave the win to Kerry. Independents divided by 42 percent -35 percent, Kerry-Bush.

As is customary, there were no immediate changes in vote preferences. Viewers divided about evenly between Bush and Kerry, 49 percent-48 percent, before the debate; and absolutely evenly, 49 percent-49 percent, after it.

Kerry runs evenly with Bush in vote preferences, despite the Republican advantage in political allegiance among debate viewers, in part because the independents who tuned in were more Democratic-leaning in their vote preference, breaking 52 percent-43 percent, Kerry-Bush. (Kerry also was supported in vote preference by 13 percent of the Republicans who watched, while Bush was supported by fewer Democrats, 6 percent.)

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

The audience for a debate poll can depend on a variety of factors, including, for instance, whether viewers find it interesting enough to stay tuned, and what else is on television. Part of doing well in a poll of debate viewers means getting people who support you to tune in.

That's one reason Dick Cheney won the vice presidential debate by eight points, 43 percent-35 percent over John Edwards; the audience was seven points more Republican. (Cheney also did better with his side's supporters than Edwards did with his.) While not a win, getting a draw among a more-Republican audience adds luster to Kerry's performance in Tempe.

As noted, there was also a draw between Kerry and Bush in their second debate. Kerry's win in the first debate breathed new life into his campaign, promoting an eight-point rise in his personal favorability rating and a closer contest between the two candidates.

This survey was conducted by telephone among a random-sample panel of 566 registered voters who watched the presidential debate. Respondents were initially interviewed Oct. 9-12. 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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