10/03/2008 12:13 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What's A Win?: VP Debate Edition

CNN and CBS, the two networks that released surveys immediately after the presidential debate last week, have done the same for the Vice Presidential debate. Presumably, the methodologies are comparable to those used on Friday. Their online reports are not yet online, but by the magic of TiVo, I managed to get the results off the air.  [Update: Both reports are now available -- I added links below].

CNN conducted a telephone survey among previously interviewed respondents who planned to watch the debate:

  • 51% said Biden "did the best job," compared to 36% for Palin.
  • 64% said Biden did better than they expected, 14% said he did worse than expected, 20% said he did the same as they expected.
  • 84% said Palin did better than they expected, 7% said he did worse than expected, 8% said she did the same as they expected.
  • Asked before the debate if Sarah Palin is "qualified to be president," 42% said yes and 54% said no. After the debate, 46% said yes and 53% said no.

CBS again followed up with a survey of uncommitted voters (those totally undecided or who say they might still change their minds) using the Knowledge Networks nationally representative online panel:

  • 46% said Biden won the debate, 21% said Palin won, 33% saw it as a tie.
  • 18% of these originally uncommitted voters made up their minds to support Obama, 10% made up their minds to support McCain, 71% were still uncommitted.
  • 53% said their opinion of Joe Biden changed for the better, 5% for the worse and 42% said their opinion did not change
  • 55% said their opinion of Sarah Palin changed for the better, 14% for the worse and 30% said their opinion did not change

So two surveys say viewers thought Biden won, although neither broadcast indicated how partisans or independents within their samples reacted. We will have to wait for their online reports to learn more.

However, for now, consider this reality check from a debate held 20 years ago this week. Most of us remember the famous line delivered by Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen to Republican VP nominee Dan Quayle on October 5, 1988: "Senator, You're No Jack Kennedy." Twenty years ago, CBS News conducted a panel-back telephone survey using a methodology similar to that used by CNN tonight. Here are the results I found in the archives (subs. req'd.) of the The Hotline:

  • 50% thought Bentsen won, 27% thought Quayle won (only 44% of Republicans gave it to Quayle, 23% to Bentsen).
  • Before the debate, 37% said Quayle was "qualified to be president," while 52% said they "would be worried." After the debate, 47% said Quayle was qualified, 48% said they would be worried.
  • Support for Michael Dukakis rose from 43% to 46% during the debate among those who watched; support for George H. W. Bush was unchanged at 51%

A similar survey conducted immediately after the debate by ABC News showed Bentsen winning 51% to 27%.

Now look at the chart the Charles Franklin put together featuring the results of all of the horse-race polls conducted during the 1988 campaign. Again, the debate was held on October 5. The second presidential debate between Bush and Dukakis washeld on October 13. During early October, support for Bush was increasing. Dan Quayle may have lost the debate, but it mattered little to the decisions voters were making.


So don't be surprised if last night's debate makes little difference to voters' preferences.

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