Poll: Viewers Divided on Debate Winner

The presidential contenders battled to a draw, with viewers of the second presidential debate in St. Louis divided, largely along partisan lines, on who won.

Among registered voters who watched Friday night's 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 sampling error.

It'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 — 35 percent of viewers were Democrats, 32 percent Republicans and 29 percent independents. And few minds were changed: Viewers divided by 50 percent to 47 percent between Kerry and Bush before the debate, and by 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 viewers' 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 from all registered or likely voters nationally.

Partisans

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 viewers of last week's first presidential debate. The audience for Tuesday night's vice presidential debate, by contrast, was a bit more Republican, 38 percent to 31 percent.

Friday night, 77 percent of Democrats called Kerry the winner and an identical 77 percent of Republicans said Bush won. Independents divided by 44 percent to 34 percent between Kerry and Bush — 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 percent to 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 were done by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.

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