The insta-polls, which provide viewers with a somewhat skewed but important insight into how each candidate fared say, by and large, that Obama scored a victory in the second debate.
NBC's focus group of undecided Pennsylvania voters had the Illinois Democrat winning by roughly a 60-40 split. Frank Luntz's focus group, over at Fox, showed undecided voters leaning towards Obama because of his position on health care. CBS's focus group of independents had the Democratic nominee winning the debate at 39 percent to McCain's 27 percent, with 35 percent of the respondents saying it was a tie. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling firm, had a focus group of undecideds leaning to Obama by a margin of 42 percent to 24 percent.
Meanwhile, SurveyUSA interviewed 741 debate watchers in the state of Washington, 54 percent of whom thought Obama was the "clear winner" compared with McCain's 29 percent. That same polling firm had the first debate as a tie. In tonight's survey: 42 percent of respondents said McCain was too forceful.
And the CNN focus group of undecided voters in Ohio had the margin at an even wider spread: Obama 54 percent to McCain's 30.
A look at some of the specific issues that these Ohio voters valued suggest that they prefer the candidate who, at least on the surface, appears less on the attack. When Obama discussed health care as a right for all Americans, his numbers were through the roof. At one point, female respondents were dialing in at 100 percent approval. When he talked about using diplomacy in Darfur and pursuing Bin Laden in Pakistan, he again enjoyed strongly enthusiastic responses.
McCain had his moments too, mostly when he was discussing economic matters and propping up businesses to turn around the economy. His low points came when he was on the attack. On MSNBC, Nora O'Donnell charted how independent voters and Democrats soured on McCain when he said that figuring out Obama's tax policy was like nailing Jell-O to a wall.
How solid was the consensus that Obama scored better tonight? Even Bill Bennett, ever the Republican optimist, conceded that the Illinois Democrat scored higher marks.
"I confess I so much admire McCain, but I just don't think the campaign is equal to the story,' he said. "I just don't think it's equal to the man, it hasn't been. ... We needed a breakthrough, talking about the economy. I think he was a little better than last time, but he didn't break through enough, and he's behind. So it just wasn't good enough for McCain in terms of what it had to be."
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