Will the Debate Show a Bounce in the Polls?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Oct. 1, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The early focus groups showed John Kerry winning Thursday night's debate, but will that translate into a bounce in the actual polls? Let's ask Andrew Kohut, Director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (search).

And Mr. Kohut, first of all, good to see you again, Andrew.


GIBSON: What effect will Thursday's debate have on the race in the polls do you think?

KOHUT: My guess is it's going to help Senator Kerry a little bit. The instant polls are not always predictive of what happens to the horse race polls. Subsequently, four years ago the first polls showed Gore, quote-unquote, "Winning the debate." But subsequent polls picked up voter frustration with the way he presented himself.

I don't think that's going to happen. I think Senator Kerry did himself some good. For a long time it looked like a referendum on Kerry and he turned the tables a bit and put President Bush on the defensive. Now, he didn't hit a home run; he hit a double. He did pretty well.

This is certainly not a knock out punch or something that's going to turn the race around, but it's probably going to shift the momentum a little bit, which has been all of President Bush's way since the conventions, and even before.

GIBSON: Kerry's pitch here in the campaign and the debates is the President has done a bad job on the war; I can do a better job. In other words, I'm going to do the same thing he is, I'm only going to do it better. And I realize I'm asking for you estimation of this, but did he make that so persuasively that he might flip the standings in the polls?

KOHUT: Well, I don't know if he made that point so definitively, but the fact that he made it before 55 million people, when he's been getting no traction is the most important thing.

Neither of these men said anything knew. We've heard all of this before. It's the way they said it, the forum in which they said it, the interactions between them. That's what makes these debates powerful. Not that they say something new. If they say something new, very often it's a gaffe that sinks their presidency. Neither of them made a gaffe that would sink their presidency.

GIBSON: A lot of people are making a big deal of the way Bush appeared to listen. He looked annoyed, he looked angry, he looked frustrated: he didn't like what Kerry was saying. Do you find those kinds of things show up in a shift in the polls?

KOHUT: They may show up a little bit. That wasn't great for President Bush. He seemed indignant; it seemed like he really didn't like what he was saying — put him on the defensive, let's say. But I don't think that that was so big a deal that it's going to completely change President Bush's image in the ways in which Vice President Gore's (search) performance really hurt him four years ago in that first debate.

GIBSON: OK. As you know, most of the polls have it a five or six or something like that, a half dozen points. Once again, I'm asking for your expert estimation: how much did this close things up?

KOHUT: This is pure guesswork. Maybe it will take the average from seven to five or four. I can't imagine that it's going to turn it around completely and have a Kerry lead, but you know what may happen is that the public opinion may become a little more unsettled again, just as it was after the debates and the polls will flop around for a while.

But you know we're going to have two more debates in just a matter of a few days so, people are going to be ping-ponged back and forth in the way they think about these candidates. That is, the swing voters will be.

GIBSON: Andrew Kohut, Director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Mr. Kohut, good to see you again. Thanks.

KOHUT: Good to see you.

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