Watching Saturday’s network morning shows, the talking heads seemed to agree that Friday night’s debate did not produce “a clear winner” or any “knockout punch,” and that it was unlikely that any “needle was moved” among undecided voters. Yet those same networks tried to also argue that Obama had really won the debate, superficially suggesting that McCain’s “disdainful” body language poorly contrasted with the “warm” and “deferential” Obama.
On style, “Barack Obama did a much better job,” ABC contributor Matthew Dowd asserted. NBC’s Chuck Todd insisted that “McCain barely could look at Obama, was disdainful at times, almost annoyed that he was having to share the same stage....Here was Obama being deferential, and here is McCain being disdainful.”
Friday night on CNN, a snap poll of 524 adults who watched the debate suggested more thought Obama had won, by a 51% to 38% margin. But CNN correspondent John King cautioned that the poll was heavy with Democratic viewers: “Looking at our poll...the audience watching has a higher percentage of Democrats than the country as a whole.”
King’s colleague Jeffrey Toobin, however, suggested that the polls would push the country into accepting Obama as the true winner: “Once one side is established as the winner, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy....It is very important, I think, that the first objective analysis -- you know, not from us, but from polls, and I think it's consistent across the networks -- all show Obama winning.”
The only other network to poll a random sample last night was CBS, which selected 483 “previously uncommitted” voters to respond via the Internet. Saturday’s Early Show twice touted the results of that poll, but the numbers were inexplicably different than those caught by NewsBuster’s Brent Baker when he watched CBS’s prime time coverage. Last night, CBS had Obama “winning” by a 40% to 22% margin; by this morning, the poll results had curiously changed to 39% for Obama and 24% for McCain.
Here’s a rundown of some of this morning’s coverage, plus the exchange on CNN last night when they disclosed their own survey showing Obama winning, beginning with the 11:30pm EDT exchange on CNN:
# CNN post-debate coverage, September 26:
ANDERSON COOPER: We've just conducted a telephone poll, a CNN-Opinion Research poll -- 524 adult Americans surveyed by the telephone. First question, who did the best job in the debate? Obama 51%, John McCain, 38%. Next question was, who would better handle Iraq? The answer to that: Obama, 52% to John McCain's 47%. And then the third question, who would better handle the economy? 58% for Obama, 37% of respondents said John McCain. What do you make of that, John King?
JOHN KING: Well, one thing looking at our poll is that, what the pollsters are saying, is that the audience watching has a higher percentage of Democrats than the country as a whole. So it will be interesting -- we'll be watching other organizations' polls to see if Democrats tuned into the debate, and what are the reasons for that. But certainly, if you have these headlines tomorrow that say the polls say Obama won, that certainly helps Barack Obama....
JEFFREY TOOBIN: What is significant, I think, about these polls is there tends to be a multiplier effect when these -- about these debates. That, initially, people aren't quite sure, but once one side is established as the winner, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy....It is very important, I think, that the first objective analysis -- you know, not from us, but from polls, and I think it's consistent across the networks -- all show Obama winning.
# ABC Good Morning America, September 27
BILL WEIR: For analysis on all this now, joining us ABC News political contributor Matthew Dowd....Did you see a clear winner last night?
MATTHEW DOWD: I don't think there was a clear winner, but I think you'd have to give the possession of the debate to Barack Obama. He went in with a lead. If you look at this as a 12th or 13th round of a prize fight, he's still ahead on points afterwards. John McCain tried to knock him off balance a bit. It didn't happen. So, slight edge, I think, in the end to Barack Obama. And he comes out of it -- goes into it with a lead and comes out with a lead.
WEIR: How about demeanor and tone? It was interesting that Obama made two points of contact -- it took him a while -- but it was the camera and John McCain. Whereas McCain seemed focused on the moderator.
DOWD: Yeah, that was an interesting thing. Most, you know -- debates are judged by the American public by substance and by style and how you connect with the audience. And I think on that regard, Barack Obama did a much better job. He, as you say, he looked at the camera. He smiled. He actually, you know, gave John McCain -- he said 'John McCain is right' a number of times. John McCain never said that to Barack Obama. And just his body language was, he was not going to look -- either somebody told him or he decided he was not going to look at Barack Obama. And I don't think in a debate, in front of the American public, that is a good thing. They want somebody that warms up. And I think Barack Obama did that.
# CBS’s Saturday Early Show, September 27:
CO-HOST ERICA HILL, 8am EDT: Senators Barack Obama and John McCain squaring off for the first time at the University of Mississippi, but did either candidate land that knockout punch? A new CBS News poll taken right after the debate finds that among previously uncommitted voters, Obama won the verbal match, 39 to 24 percent. 37% of those polled thought it was a tie.
PRIYA DAVID, 8:30am news update: The presidential candidates faced off in their first televised debate last night. It was supposed to be about foreign policy, but the Wall Street bailout played a major role. The debate was held at the Univesity of Mississippi. While the pundits seemed to agree there was no knockout punch, a new CBS News poll of previously uncommitted voters had Barack Obama as the winner.
# NBC’s Today, September 27:
LESTER HOLT: Did these debates move any needles, in your view?
CHUCK TODD: Well, I'd be really surprised if any needle was moved....They were both very good at doing what they do well. Obama being a little more direct than he usually is, but still expansive, and the format helped him there. McCain being very direct, showing a lot of energy, and they presented two very divergent views on foreign policy. I mean, it is not as if a voter could sit there and say, geez, these guys are sounding alike. They did not sound alike at all....
TODD: I was struck by the two different ways that they handled each other. Obama very much was trying to be deferential -- he did this a lot in this primary debates. He would say 'Hillary was right,' or he would say 'Joe was right.'...Take that and compare it to where McCain barely could look at Obama, was disdainful at times, almost annoyed that he was having to share the same stage, that he was being compared on his presidential mettle versus Obama's presidential mettle. And that's -- you wonder, how is that tone playing? You know, a lot of times, tone can dictate how a voter feels about a debate. Here was Obama being deferential, and here is McCain being disdainful. We'll see -- it is an angry public out there right now, so maybe they'll connect with disdainful, but a lot of times that isn't the case.