Watch CBSN Live

Uncommitted Voters Pick Kerry

A majority of uncommitted voters (39 percent) who watched Wednesday's third and final presidential debate felt Sen. John Kerry won, though nearly as many (36 percent) thought the result was a tie, and about one-quarter gave the debate to President 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.

During the debate, women frequently registered more positive reactions to Kerry, and the final poll results also indicate that. Men and women uncommitted voters each saw a different winner in tonight's debate. Half of women named Kerry the winner while men divided evenly – Mr. Bush 32 percent, Kerry 29 percent.

These uncommitted voters said the debates had helped them decide whom to vote for this year.

(Uncommitted Voters Who Watched Debate)


While they came away from the final debate believing that both candidates had clear positions on the issues, for Kerry, those evaluations improved more dramatically. The percentage that thought he had clear positions almost doubled during the debate: beforehand, among these same respondents, just 31 percent said Kerry had clear positions on the issues, afterwards 59 percent did. Mr. Bush improved as well. After the debate, 64 percent said he had clear positions on the issues. 47 percent had thought so beforehand.

After the debate these voters overwhelmingly thought John Kerry cares about them and would protect Social Security. They were more mixed on whether Mr. Bush cares about people like them, although most said he did.

Seven in 10 uncommitted women voters who watched Wednesday said Kerry shares their priorities for the country. Men were evenly divided.

Both candidates gained in overall favorability, Kerry more than Mr. Bush. A majority of uncommitted voters came away from the third debate with more overall positive evaluations of Kerry. Four in 10 also came away with more positive views of Mr. Bush.

(Uncommitted Voters Who Watched Debate)



No Change

There were gender differences here, too. Forty-eight percent of male uncommitted voters said their opinion of Mr. Bush improved after the debate. Fifty-one percent of uncommitted women voters said their opinion of Mr. Bush didn't change. Kerry's image improved among both men and women.

Uncommitted voters in this poll graded the candidates with a sliding scale using their remote controls during the debate. In the real-time evaluations of tonight's debate:

  • Kerry scored a lot of points with the panel of uncommitted watchers on "kitchen table" issues: when he talked of job loss and American workers subsidizing the loss of their own jobs, and how he wanted to stand up for the American worker. Kerry got some of his highest ratings of the night when he said he would raise the minimum wage and would fight for women to have equal pay - this was especially highly rated among the women watching.
  • Kerry got high ratings when he said that peoples' health care should be as good as those of politicians. Kerry's discussion of his health care ideas garnered him generally high ratings (Mr. Bush's statements pointing out the potential costs of those plans did not meet with the same approval as Kerry's discussion of their benefits). Kerry scored high ratings on a personal matter at the end: discussing the women in his family, and the words of his mother.
  • Mr. Bush scored some of his highest ratings when he discussed his personal faith and said that he prays a great deal - especially when he said that his faith gives him strength and calms him in amidst the storms of the Presidency. Mr. Bush also got some of his highest ratings of the evening at the end of it - when he talked about his wife Laura and how they met.
  • Mr. Bush scored high points with the panel when he discussed his view on the sanctity of marriage, and as he discussed his stand against partial birth abortion the panel gave him consistently high ratings through that statement.
  • President Bush also scored points when he discussed prosecuting those committing crimes with guns. Kerry scored higher points in the area of gun control when he talked of going hunting and how he did not want criminals to have assault weapons.
  • Both got off to a slow start: neither candidate impressed the uncommitted much with their answers to the opening question of whether the nation would eventually be safer in the future.

    This CBS News poll was conducted online by Knowledge Networks among a nationwide random sample of 211 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. For information on how we define "likely voters," click here.