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McCain And Obama Highs And Lows From Debate Dial Tests
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McCain And Obama Highs And Lows From Debate Dial Tests

During the first presidential debate on September 26, Barack Obama’s comments on oil independence, health care, the Iraq War, and Al Qaeda drew the most positive responses from a panel of uncommitted, registered voters who allowed CBS and Nielsen to capture their real-time reactions to the first presidential debate Friday night.

As they watched the debate, panel members turned a dial between 0 and 100 to indicate their reactions to the candidates’ discussion. 100 indicates a “very positive” response, 0 corresponds with a “very negative” response, and 50 is neutral. Nielsen calculated the average of the 44 respondents’ responses. The panel, and its results, are not part of CBS’s election polling, and the panel is not large enough to be statistically significant according to Nielsen’s standards.

Obama’s discussion of oil independence and health, at roughly 26 minutes into the debate, drew the overall most positive response from the CBS/Nielsen panel.

In contrast, John McCain’s closing comments (92:21 – 95:37) summarizing his qualifications for the presidency and his plans for keeping the U.S. safe drew some of the least positive responses from the respondents. McCain’s high point came just minutes earlier when discussing the importance of success in Iraq. Obama’s lowest response came during his discussion of investing in the American dream.

The candidates’ contentious exchange on energy policy (83:29) also drew negative responses from the CBS/Nielsen panel.

The 22 men and 22 women on the panel had largely similar responses to the debate. In several instances, McCain’s comments drew markedly less positive reactions from female panelists (13:13, 27:53, and 62:57).

When parsed by age, the data indicates that respondents of all ages also showed largely similar responses to the candidates’ comments. However, panelists aged 35-54 occasionally deviated from the norm, registering less positive responses than panelists between the ages of 18-34 and 55-99 when Obama discussed his plan for the financial crisis (approximately 3:30), dealing with Pakistan (53:29 – 54:57), and holding diplomatic talks with countries hostile to the U.S. (68:49 – 70:17).

Panelists’ responses were measured at CBS’s TV City research facility in Las Vegas, using Nielsen technology.

View complete data from CBS and Nielsen’s first debate response panel.

View CBS’s on-air analysis of the panel results.

Read coverage of Nielsen’s findings in TV Week.