Jan. 5, 2007 -- As the Republican and Democratic presidential contenders debated in New Hampshire, thousands of people logged on to social networking site Facebook to talk up their candidates and bad mouth the competition.
The experience was beneficial, according to a poll on Facebook, which sponsored the Manchester, N.H., debate with ABC News and the local ABC affiliate station WMUR. In the final moments of the evening's second debate among the Democratic candidates, 81 percent, or 13,312 users, said in a nonscientific poll that the debate gave them a better sense of whom they would vote for.
Facebook users, however, appeared to support the same candidates at the end of the debates that they had at the beginning.
Following the Republican debates, the majority of respondents, 41 percent or 10,491, said they believed Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, "appeared the most presidential during the debate."
Paul is the Republican darling of the Web site, with a following unmatched in national polling. He is the favorite candidate of 37 percent of willing Facebook respondents who identify as Republicans. By contrast, Paul commands just 6 percent of Republican support nationally in many polls.
Sarah Odell, a 20-year-old sophomore at Wellesley College, told ABCNEWS.com in a phone interview that the debate would not change her support for Sen. Hillary Clinton, D- N.Y. She said Clinton most represented the campaign's hottest buzzword — change.
"Change is not just an amorphous buzzword for Clinton," she said. "Young people want change in the deepest sense of the word. If you listened to what she said in the debate, or if you look at her record after serving a full term in the Senate, it's clear she's the most qualified candidate."
Both debates began with heated discussion of foreign policy.
Most people said they were better informed about the Republican candidates' positions on foreign policy following the first half of tonight's debate, which was marked by an intense square off between candidates Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney over how best to deal with terrorism and the Islamic world.
At the end of the Republican debate, 6,788 site visitors out of 10,676 who responded to an unscientific poll said they believed they better understood the candidates' positions.
Within moments of Texas Rep Ron Paul's assertion that the United States needs to better understand Muslim countries and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's response that we need to "increase the size of our military" to deal with a dangerous form of militarized Islamic extremism, Facebook visitors weighed in.
On Facebook's "Soundboard," an electronic bulletin board, Pamela Geller Oshry, in her 40s and from New York, asked "Will any candidate be brave enough to lay out a strategy to fight the global jihad?"
Reached by phone by ABC NEWS.com, Oshry, described Paul's position as "scary and soft on terrorism." She said she was supporting Giuliani, but found former Sen. Fred Thompson's positions "stronger and stronger" and would elect "anyone capable of beating the Democrats."
Facebook users represent a small but politically conscious bloc of voters. The typical age of those who use the site who responded to earlier unscientific polls on issues ranging from maintaining troop levels in Iraq to global warming was 18-24.
Some 1 million of the networking site's 60 million users added the U.S. politics application to their personal pages, and a fraction of them have responded to polls or named their preferred candidate.
Their support for candidates, however, does not mirror the national opinion polls.
Paul has a following on the Web site unmatched in national polling. He is the favorite candidate of 37 percent of willing respondents who identify as Republicans. By contrast, Paul commands just 6 percent of Republican support nationally in many polls.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won Thursday's Iowa caucus, is supported by 17 percent of Facebook users versus 14 percent in a recent scientific ABC/Facebook poll.
"If people truly listen to Mike Huckabee tonight, they will see that he is not only a moral and honest person but is strong on all the issues," wrote Debi Large, a 52-year-old user from Okeechobee, Fla.
In an e-mail interview with ABC News, Large wrote, "I think Huckabee is doing great. He is honest, firm, calm and knows his stuff. I think Ron Paul comes across like a joke. McCain is doing well, Romney is so defensive and untrusting that even when he sounds good, I wouldn't trust him. Thompson never sounds trustworthy to me, and I'm tired of hearing about New York from Giuliani."
The Internet has already played a vital role in this year's campaign, with 40 percent of respondents to a scientific ABC/Facebook poll saying they go online for campaign news and information. Two-thirds of Americans say the information found online is important in deciding who to vote for.
One respondent who made his opinions known on Facebook in the lead up to tonight's debate was Democratic candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who was informed earlier that he would be barred from participating because he did not meet benchmarks for support.
ABC/Facebook "excluded me from the important New Hampshire debate, because I wasn't 'a Top 4 candidate' yet in the polls. Did you know Clinton/Obama/Edwards refuse to support impeachment, gay marriage and repeal of the Patriot Act and NAFTA? Or leave Iraq until 2013," he wrote in response to a Facebook poll, asking if electability was a factor in deciding one's vote in the primaries.
Republican candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Democrat former Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, were also cut from the stage, given their poor showings in the Iowa caucuses and in New Hampshire and national surveys, as per ABC/Facebook rules.
On Facebook, Sen. Barrack Obama, D-Ill., is supported by 60 percent of Facebook visitors who voluntarily identified as Democrats and willingly noted their support of a candidate. By contrast, Obama is supported by just 20 percent of Democrats nationally, according to a scientific ABC/Facebook poll.