WEST DES MOINES, IOWA, JULY 2 -- Evaluation of political debates moved into the high-technology era here Wednesday night as 85 Iowa Democrats were electronically linked to a computer to analyze their reactions throughout the two-hour presidential debate televised from Houston.
"This changes the whole equation in judging debates," said David Wilhelm, Iowa manager of the campaign of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.).
The 85 Democrats, who said they are not firmly committed, were seated in front of a movie screen and given wired boxes with knobs that could be pointed to numbers from one to seven, with one signifying the lowest rating.
Before the debate, they were asked to evaluate the Democratic presidential candidates on various grounds and indicate a voting preference. Answers involved pointing to numbers as the questions appeared on the screen and were read aloud.
Participants then were told to signal responses continually as the debate proceeded.
The consultants and media representatives were shown, on a television screen, charts and graphs that updated every three seconds the 85 watchers' assessments. Observers could follow responses quite precisely and see how specific issues were received.
After the debate, the 85 were asked to evaluate the candidates on intelligence, persuasiveness, strength and performance in the debate, then indicate a voting preference.
By 9 a.m. today, tabulations on the major questions were available.