After the first presidential debate, several media outlets turned to skewed focus groups to purportedly determine whether President George W. Bush or Senator John Kerry won the debate and to assess its impact on undecided voters in swing states. USA Today, NBC, and The Boston Globe conducted focus groups that included more registered Republicans than Democrats, more Bush supporters than Gore supporters from the 2000 election, or more strong Bush supporters than strong Kerry supporters.
USA TODAY: Twelve registered Republicans, three registered Democrats
A USA Today focus group conducted in Pennsylvania included twelve registered Republicans and only three registered Democrats. Of the 15 "undecided voters," USA Today noted: "Five said they voted for Bush in 2000, five voted for Democrat Al Gore and five did not vote." Despite the study's oversampling of registered Republicans, it still showed that the debate helped Kerry: "Seven members of the panel said they came away from the debate closer to a decision about how they would cast their vote. Of those, six said they were leaning toward Kerry."
NBC/MSNBC: Four registered Republicans, one independent, no Democrats
A focus group conducted in Florida and broadcast on both NBC and MSNBC featured four registered Republicans, one independent, and no registered Democrats, NBC News White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell reported on Hardball with Chris Matthews October 1. According to O'Donnell, "[t]hree of them had voted for President Bush in the last election, one for Al Gore and one didn't vote." Like the USA Today group, despite the unbalanced nature of the MSNBC study, O'Donnell's summation of the findings showed a shift towards Kerry: "[T]wo undecideds who say they will now vote for Kerry, but the others remain on the fence."
O'Donnell first reported the focus group's findings on NBC's Today show earlier on October 1. On that program, while she mentioned how the members of the group had voted in 2000, she neglected to mention their party registration.
Boston Globe: Three "fervent Bush supporters," one "reluctant but firm Kerry supporter"
A Boston Globe focus group conducted in Ohio included three "fervent Bush supporters," one "reluctant but firm Kerry supporter," and six undecided voters with "three of those leaning toward Bush, two leaning toward Kerry, and one not leaning at all." The University of Akron's Center for Policy Studies helped gather the group. The group's findings suggested that the six undecided voters were leaning the same way "after the debate as well."