Uncommitted Voters Give Kerry Nod

Former Marines watch the presidential debate in the Leatherneck Club, Las Vegas, Nevada, 9-30-04 AP

Uncommitted voters who watched Thursday night's presidential debate said John Kerry won the debate against President Bush, and most of those voters improved their opinion about the Democratic candidate because of the debate, according to a CBS News poll.

Forty-three percent of the uncommitted debate-watchers picked Kerry as the winner, while 28 percent chose Mr. Bush. Another 29 percent said it was a tie.

Kerry also made significant inroads on ratings for his potential to handle Iraq and on likeability, two areas where he had been trailing Mr. Bush.

Immediately after the debate, CBS News interviewed a nationally representative sample of more than 200 debate watchers assembled by Knowledge Networks who were "uncommitted voters" – voters who are either undecided about who to vote for or who have a preference but say they could still change their minds.

WHO WON THE DEBATE
(Uncommitted Voters Who Watched Debate)

Kerry
43%

Bush
28%

Tie
29%

More than half of the uncommitted voters said that their image of Kerry had changed for the better as a result. Just 14 percent said their opinion of Kerry had gotten worse, and one-third did not change their opinion.

THE DEBATE'S EFFECT ON OPINIONS OF THE CANDIDATES
(Uncommitted Voters Who Watched Debate)

BETTER

Kerry
53%
Bush
22%

WORSE
Kerry
14%
Bush
20%

NO CHANGE
Kerry
34%
Bush
58%

Mr. Bush, on the other hand, saw very little improvement in his image. Twenty-two percent have improved their image of Mr. Bush as a result of the debate, but just as many said their views of the president are now worse than before.

On the issue of ability to handle Iraq, Kerry was the clear winner. He had a 38-point jump by this measure. A majority of the uncommitted viewers, 52 percent, said after the debate that Kerry had a clear plan for Iraq. Thirty-nine percent said this about Mr. Bush. Before the debate, few thought either had a clear plan for dealing with Iraq.

HAS A CLEAR PLAN FOR DEALING WITH SITUATION IN IRAQ:
(Uncommitted Voters Who Watched Debate)

KERRY

Yes

Pre-Debate
14%
Post-Debate
52%

No
Pre-Debate
82%
Post-Debate
46%

BUSH

Yes

Pre-Debate
24%
Post-Debate
39%

No
Pre-Debate
75%
Post-Debate
60%

The panel of uncommitted debate watchers evaluated the debate in real-time, marking favorable or unfavorable opinions of what they heard moment by moment.

Kerry's evaluations rose as he assailed the Bush administration's planning for the war and for asserting that the administration allowed 90 percent of the costs of the war to fall on the U.S. Kerry did especially well with women when he said that Mr. Bush had cut police at home while sending money to Iraq.

Both candidates made progress on the issue of protecting the U.S. from terrorist attacks. Sixty-one percent of these voters now trust Kerry; 64 percent trust Bush. Before the debate, these voters trusted Bush over Kerry on this issue by 51 percent to 46percent.

TRUST CANDIDATE TO PROTECT U.S. FROM TERRORISM:
(Uncommitted Voters Who Watched Debate)

KERRY

Yes

Pre-Debate
46%
Post-Debate
61%

No
Pre-Debate
51%
Post-Debate
37%

BUSH

Yes

Pre-Debate
51%
Post-Debate
64%

No
Pre-Debate
49%
Post-Debate
36%

Women responded positively in the real-time evaluation when Kerry talked about strengthening U.S. ties with allies and the policy of pre-emption. When Kerry talked about finding al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, both men and women responded positively.

Still, more women think Mr. Bush can be trusted to protect the country from a terrorist attack than Kerry, by 62-52 percent. Seventy-one percent of men said Kerry could be trusted to protect the country, while 66 percent said the same about Mr. Bush.

Overall, The President did not do as well as Kerry in the real-time evaluations of uncommitted voters watching the debate. But Bush did score in the pulse ratings when he said that when the U.S. gives its word it must keep its word. The President also gained high ratings when he discussed Russia and his relationship with President Vladimir Putin.

Kerry also significantly improved his likeability. Six in 10 members of the sample now say Kerry is someone whom they would like personally, up from 45 percent before the debate. Fifty-six percent would like Bush personally. More women said they liked Kerry than Mr. Bush – while men were equally likely to say each candidate was someone they would like.

VIEWS OF THE CANDIDATES
(Uncommitted Voters Who Watched Debate)

Is someone you would like personally

KERRY
Yes
61%
No
39%

BUSH
Yes
56%
No
43%

Has attacked his opponent unfairly

KERRY
Yes
22%
No
77%

BUSH
Yes
14%
No
85%

In the horse race, Kerry now leads Mr. Bush among uncommitted debate watchers by 38-31 percent as their choice for president in November. But nearly a third remain undecided.

PRESIDENTIAL PREFERENCE AMONG DEBATE WATCHERS
(Uncommitted Voters Who Watched Debate)

KERRY
Pre-Debate
31%
Post-Debate
38%

BUSH
Pre-Debate
19%
Post-Debate
31%

Someone else
Pre-Debate
6%
Post-Debate
5%

Depends
Pre-Debate
46%
Post-Debate
26%




This CBS News poll was conducted online by Knowledge Networks among a nationwide random sample of 209 uncommitted voters – voters who don't yet know who they will vote for, or who have chosen a candidate but may still change their minds – who have agreed to watch the debate. Knowledge Networks, a Silicon Valley company, conducted the poll among a sample of adult members of its household panel, a nationally representative sample given access to the Internet via Web TV. The questions were administered using the Internet.

This is a scientifically representative poll of undecided voters' reaction to the presidential debate. The margin of sampling error could be plus or minus 7 percentage points for results based on the entire sample.


For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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