WASHINGTON — Undecided voters who watched Thursday's vice presidential debate really like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin but they're not certain she's ready to lead the country, according to the findings of a new Ipsos/McClatchy online poll.
If they had to vote immediately after watching the debate between Republican Palin and the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, 52 percent of the 456 undecided voters who were surveyed would vote the Obama/Biden ticket, the poll found.
It also found that Palin's performance in the debate did nothing to clinch undecided votes for her running mate, Arizona Sen. John McCain. Before the debate, those same undecided voters were leaning 56 percent to 44 percent for McCain. The day after the debate, the numbers tilted 52 percent to 48 percent for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
"It's suggesting an overall tendency of undecideds toward Obama, so it is significant," said Clifford Young, a senior vice president at Ipsos Public Affairs. "We're catching an underlying trend that's going on."
The online poll tracks a pool of undecided voters before and after the presidential and vice presidential debates. Of the 614 undecided voters surveyed, 456 watched or followed the debate. Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online polls because they are based on samples drawn from opt-in online panels, not on random samples.
Most people polled Friday also thought Biden did better in the debate -- although McCain boasted of Palin's performance at a campaign rally the next day, saying he "almost felt a little sorry" for Biden. McCain also proclaimed "viva la barracuda!" a reference to the Alaska governor's nickname on her high school basketball team. Respondents found 54 percent to 46 percent that Biden posted a better performance.
Palin got poor marks from voters when asked if she looked vice presidential or whether she had a good understanding of the issues -- only 39 percent of the undecided voters thought she looked vice presidential. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed thought Biden would be a better commander-in-chief.
But Palin did well when people were asked who would do a better job bringing change to Washington. Palin, they found, 58 percent to 42 percent. And roughly two-thirds said they like her, and some 53 percent found her believable. That's a significant number in a debate watched by an estimated 69.9 million viewers -- more than the previous presidential debate.
"I like Palin," said one of the people surveyed in the Ipsos/McClatchy poll, Democrat Greg Brantley, 47, of Irving, Texas.
"She's very outgoing, she's real friendly, she seems to know what she's talking about," said Brantley, who thinks he'll vote for McCain. "She just seems like an average person you could walk down the street and pick up a conversation with her."
Although the most significant findings in the poll are about which direction undecided voters are leaning, there might be something to be learned from Palin's overwhelmingly positive likeability numbers, Young said. It may be that in tough economic times, voters yearn for a candidate who feels their pain.
"We don't we have a 'great communicator' this year, like Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton," Young said.
Voter Judy Williams of Caliente, Calif., agreed, saying she liked how both vice presidential candidates seemed "sincere and very sympathetic."
"I think we really need someone who can see what us middle classers are going through and taking up our cause," she said
Williams also said that Palin exceeded her expectations during the debate and is leaning toward voting for McCain, but she likes Biden so much that if he were on the top of the ticket, she would vote for him for president. She was especially moved when Biden choked up while speaking about the loss of his first wife in a car crash.
"I was very touched by it," she said. "I could definitely sympathize."
But how much does the vice presidential debate matter? Marcee Dellinger, 29, of Yakima, Wash., said she didn't find the vice presidential debate "a persuasive factor" in making a decision. Still undecided, she said she was hoping the next debate between the presidential candidates would give her the information she needs to make up her mind.
"I hope anyway," she said. "I probably lean more toward Republicans, but if I had to vote today I have to say I wouldn't be comfortable 100 percent."
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