Who won the McCain-Obama debates? Summing up the USAToday/Gallup polls, the numbers for Obama were 46, 56, and 56 percent for debates 1, 2, and 3. McCain had 34, 23, and 30 percent, respectively.
So Obama improved from #1 to #2, then held his ground in #3. McCain's performance, even GOP loyalists have to admit, was far from inspired. He had flashes, his moments, but for a guy who is supposed to be a good debater he was a disappointment to many.
What's more interesting, from a what people know perspective, is responses across all three debates to a question asking if people's impressions were more or less favorable about the two candidates after the debates. For McCain, kinda a random walk, but Obama improved after each debate: 30 percent favorable, then 34 percent, and finally on the third debate, 37 percent.
Keep in mind that for about half of all respondents, nothing really changed despite the debates. The response to Obama is not unlike that to Reagan in the 1980s. At first people were suspicious of this former actor and California governor. Did he have the seriousness to be president? He did well in the debates and people grew more comfortable with him. Obama enjoys a similar debate effect.