COMMENTS: Citizens' Media Scorecard Results

Supporters of Barack Obama were more frustrated than those of John McCain at the conduct of the first Presidential debate in Mississippi, according to the Citizens' Media Scorecard. By wide margins, they were more dissatisfied with the narrow scope of the foreign policy questions chosen by moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS. Obama's supporters appeared to seek a more wideranging discussion of the problems facing the United States. McCain's followers were more likely to focus on the key issues of war and peace and terrorism.

Obama partisans in the panel tended to complain about the absence of questions on Africa (80% v 58% of McCain's) and China (74% v 64%); and on the foreign policy issues of global warming (89% v 42%); human rights abuses (85% v 57%); AIDS and other diseases (86% v 55%); and globalized trade (76% v 56%). The supporters of both candidates gave high marks to Lehrer's selection of questions about four major regions: at least 70% of each group scored him as "just right" for the time he devoted to Afghanistan & Pakistan; to Iran; to Russia & NATO; and to Iraq.

The scorecard was an online rating of the debate by a panel of more than 4,600 volunteers conducted by Free Press. Timothy Karr of Free Press has cross-posted these results at Huffington Post.

Lehrer's decision to depart from the designated foreign policy topic of the debate in order to begin with the financial crisis drew little criticism for excess. More than half of each group of supporters rated the time he spent on high finance (50% of Obama's supporters v 50% of McCain's), federal spending (52% v 56%) and taxation (58% v 56%) as "just right." Many Obama supporters complained that Lehrer's economic questions did not also cover poverty (86% v 38%), Social Security (83% v 63%) and unemployment (77% v 46%) as well.

There was little difference between the two groups of partisans in their assessment of Lehrer's performance. Fewer than 10% of the overall panel said he did a "poor job" (36% excellent, 54% adequate). His attempts to have the candidates interact without his intervention may have gone overboard: on a spectrum from "too controling" to "too freewheeling" the panel tended to come down on the side of freewheeling (27% v 4%). Lehrer received high marks for being extremely plainspoken (47%) and being unbiased (77%).

Among those few who complained that Lehrer played favorites, McCain supporters (21% v 11% of Obama's) were more likely to complain about their man's treatment. Those complaints of bias aside, McCain's supporters were more positive about the debate overall. They were more likely to find it extremely helpful in deciding how to vote (46% v 25%) and in learning about their own candidate's positions (61% v 42%).

Although Free Press extended outreach to all parts of the political spectrum, of the 4691 volunteers who participated in the scorecard, Obama supporters vastly outnumbered McCain's. To correct for that imbalance, these results have been reported by contrasting the ratings of the two groups rather than combining them, which would have drowned out the Republican perspective. Consisting of volunteers rather than a random sample, these results cannot be projected to the population at large.

The two groups of supporters tended to watch the debate on different outlets. MSNBC (27%) and PBS (26%) were the favorite outlet for Obama partisans. Fox News Channel was the favorite for fully 43% of the McCain voters in the panel. We need to recruit a more diverse panel for subsequent debates. Perhaps Fox News will give us a hand with some outreach.

UPDATE: my apologies to all those who stayed up past midnight to catch my promised deadline, which is only now, tardily being met. The survey analysis software did not work as I expected so we had to call it a night at 1:30am. I think those were just teething troubles. Onwards to the next debate!

UPDATE II: there were only 281 McCain supporters in the panel; 3837 Obama supporters; the remainder Other/Undecided/None. More Republicans needed.


"of the 4691 volunteers who participated in the scorecard, Obama supporters vastly outnumbered McCain's. To correct for that imbalance, these results have been reported by contrasting the ratings of the two groups rather than combining them, which would have drowned out the Republican perspective."

I don't like this kind of "reporting." Once you mention the total number (which you always should, so I like that), it begs a question.....

How many republicans and how many democrats specifically were in the "sample"? I understand the reporting method -- using percentages -- but why not just be transparent about the "sample makeup," also? That would allow readers to get a sense of how much accuracy/weight one could give the republican percentages. E.g., if you had 30 republicans and 4661 democrats, I'd wonder about the "non-partisanship" of Free-press if they couldn't locate an email list of a few more repubs.

Just askin'!
Kristen --

You are right. The base numbers should have been added. I have now included them in the update. The lack of Republican outreach was a major problem in this effort. Let's hope we do better in the next debates.
Thank you much for that quick response. I appreciate the transparency very much.

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