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Yahoo! News - And the Winner Is...

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Yahoo! News - And the Winner Is...

Kevin Sites

Every time a Presidential debate ends it seems the real contest begins, as candidates elbow their way to the nearest television camera to spin their own performance into a tale of triumph.

But in Yahoo's Democratic Candidate Mashup - the first "online only" debate - it was the viewers who made the call, just like they would in a real election.

And who did they decide mastered the mashup? By a 4% margin they picked Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who edged out New York Senator Hillary Clinton with 35% of the vote to her 31%.

Yahoo! News asked users who they would vote for after seeing the online debate. Only a fraction of those who watched debate footage voted - more than a million people watched debate clips, but only 15%, or about 160,000 people, voted. That's not so different from the low-turnout rates we usually see in actual elections.

Younger viewers may have helped put Obama over the top. Some 41% of his audience was under 35, compared to 36% of Clinton's audience.

In an interview with Yahoo! News after the results were announced, Obama said his "doing business differently" approach in politics resonates with young voters.

"That's always been the case in American history - change comes because younger people decide that they want to imagine a different country, and live up to the ideals that they've heard about, but don't always see practiced," he said. "So we're thrilled to have young voters involved; we think that they're going to be a major factor in this race."

Yahoo! analyst Paula McMahon says Internet familiarity was a likely factor. "Obama had the most votes," says McMahon, "so we're theorizing that possibly the younger audience might be a little more comfortable voting on the Internet. "

A request for an interview with Sen. Clinton was not answered.

In the forum, "The Election '08 Democratic Candidate Mashup," which was sponsored by Yahoo!, The Huffington Post and Slate, the candidates were not in the same state, let alone the same room. All were interviewed individually via satellite from the campaign trail.

Before the debate, Internet users set the stage by selecting, through an online vote, three topics to be discussed: Iraq, healthcare and education. Questions on each topic, plus a wildcard question posed by comedian Bill Maher, were presented to the candidates. Each viewer was then given the opportunity to build a personalized debate, selecting the issues and candidates to highlight - for example, comparing New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich on education or matching up Senator Joe Biden and Senator Chris Dodd on Iraq.

Maher's pointed questions were among the most watched of the entire debate. The surprising questions made some candidates laugh and others squirm. For Clinton, Maher focused on the war in Iraq, saying: "George Bush fooled you. Why should Americans vote for someone who can be fooled by George Bush?"

Clinton laughed loudly before recovering to say that "it was a little more complicated than that."

With logged-in users comprising about 40% of the overall debate audience, Yahoo! says it was able to gather some demographic data based on information voluntarily given when the account is created. This allowed for some interesting glimpses into potential voter behavior. For example, the number of viewings of former Senator John Edwards' health care reform clip suggest that he has struck a chord with women in Iowa. And Kucinich seems to have a following among women under 35 in Seattle.

Ultimately, however, the Obama versus Clinton matchup dominated the Democratic Mashup, just as it has on the campaign trail.


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