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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 12:01 AM ET, 10/19/2008

Presidential Debates: The Verdict is In

The verdict on this year's presidential debates is in, and according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, fewer than half of voters said the three face-offs altered their views of the candidates.

Among those who did change their views, Barack Obama appears to have earned the biggest boost from the match-ups. By a 3 to 1 margin, voters said the debates made them feel better (36 percent) rather than worse (12 percent) about the senator from Illinois, while the number viewing his Republican opponent, John McCain, more poorly slightly outweighs those whose impressions improved, 26 percent to 20 percent.

This judgment meshes with the results of post-debate snap polls of debate-watchers conducted by CNN. That poll found Obama to be the winner of all three debates, and by a bigger margin each time the candidates squared off.

Along partisan lines, independents moved in about the same proportions as likely voters overall, 33 percent said the debates resulted in a better opinion of Obama, 19 percent said so of McCain. But Obama moved more of his own partisans to more favorable views (55 percent) than McCain did his (43 percent). Obama also wound up faring better among Republicans (16 percent said they had a better impression, 22 percent worse) than the senator from Arizona did among Democrats (10 percent better, 40 percent worse).

After the first debate, nearly seven in 10 white voters reported unchanged views on either candidate, but among those who did change their minds, both wound up net positive (17 percent were more positive for Obama, 7 percent less so; 15 percent were more positive for McCain, 9 percent less). But that has since tilted in Obama's favor. With all three debates completed, 30 percent of whites hold better views of Obama, 14 percent worse, while for McCain, about as many said their impression got worse (23 percent) as better (21 percent).

A similar dynamic has emerged among seniors. In the new poll, 35 percent of those age 65 and up said the debates made them think better of Obama, 16 percent felt worse. But just 18 percent held improved views of McCain after the debates, 21 percent were more negatively disposed.

Overall, after each debate, the proportion unmoved decreased for both candidates, finally landing at 51 percent unchanged in their feelings on Obama and 53 percent holding steady on McCain.

This Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 16-17 among a random national sample of 666 likely voters. Results from the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. It is higher for subgroups.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  12:01 AM ET, 10/19/2008

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