WASHINGTON — John McCain did better in his final debate with Barack Obama than he had in the two previous ones, but Obama still won it, according to a new online Ipsos/McClatchy survey of undecided voters.
Obama won by 56-44 percent, and the undecided voters said that if they were forced to choose after watching the debate, they tilted to Obama by 53-47 percent.
The online survey of 366 undecided voters isn't a scientific random sample, doesn't statistically mirror the population and thus has no margin of error. The sample instead resembles a giant focus group and is reflective of many undecided voters' opinions.
The survey found that 53 percent of the respondents said that McCain did better Wednesday night than he had in the first two debates, and nearly half said he did much better. Just 29 percent said that Obama performed better in the 90-minute debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., than he had in the first two face-offs with McCain.
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On balance, though, the poll's findings suggest that McCain fell well short of the kind of breakthrough he needs to overtake Obama's lead in broader polls, both nationally and in key battleground states.
The online undecided voters gave Obama higher marks than McCain for expressing his opinions more clearly, for his understanding of the issues, for agreeing with the voters on issues they care about and for his ability to think on his feet.
They also thought that Obama would do a better job getting the country on the right track, helping the middle class, creating more jobs and dealing with health care. In a blow to McCain and his effort to convince voters that Obama would raise their taxes broadly, these undecided voters narrowly trusted the Illinois senator on taxes more than they did McCain.
They gave the Arizona senator higher grades than they gave Obama for being tough enough for the job and for being able to defend the country and combat terrorism. They also trusted him more as a potential commander in chief.
Perhaps McCain's biggest obstacle to winning the debate was the way voters reacted to his attacks on Obama. By 2-1, the voters said McCain was more disrespectful and more mean-spirited than Obama was, and by a similar ratio they said Obama was more likable.
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos online poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday. For this survey, a national sample of 366 undecided voters from Ipsos' U.S. online panel was interviewed online. Weighting then was employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the U.S. adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. Statistical margins of error aren't applicable to online polls because they're based on samples drawn from opt-in online panels, not on random samples that mirror the population within a statistical probability ratio. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including but not limited to coverage error and measurement error.
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