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CNN to track debate viewers' responses in real time

  • Story Highlights
  • Randomly chosen, undecided Democrats will watch debate while turning dials
  • Dials will rate their positive and negative responses to each debater
  • Group members will be asked questions about candidates before, after debate
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From Shirley Zilberstein
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JOHNSTON, Iowa (CNN) -- Politics meets technology Thursday as a group of undecided Iowa Democrats has allowed themselves to be wired for the debate of Democratic presidential hopefuls.


A dial-test graph is displayed over candidate Rudy Giuliani during a recent GOP debate.

By the end of the debate, CNN hopes to be able to gauge which debater was the group's favorite and whose popularity fell -- and perhaps -- who may win the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses on January 3.

Across town, six Democratic candidates will be facing off for their final scheduled debate in the Hawkeye State before caucus night. The debate is hosted by the Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Television.

Each member of the randomly selected group will watch the debate on a large-screen TV while operating special hand-held dial-testing devices which are approximately the size of typical remote-control devices.

Viewers will react to the debate as it happens -- second-by-second -- as they move their dials to the right or the left. Dialing right indicates a positive response and dialing left represents a negative response.

Southern Methodist University professors Rita Kirk and Dan Schill will track the average response of the group corresponding with each moment of the debate. Responses will be represented by a moving line on a video monitor.

The group of Iowans, randomly selected by phone from a list of registered voters, will be recording their impressions of every moment of the debate.

The Democratic participants will answer a series of questions both before and after the debate, to determine how the event may change their minds about the candidates.

Among the questions to be posed before the face-off: Who do the group members think will perform best in the debate?

Afterwards, they'll be asked who they think did the best. They also will be asked who they would vote for if the election were held today and who they think will win the nomination.

All participants are planning to attend caucuses, but have yet to pick a candidate. Some are wavering between two candidates while some are considering several. They're hoping to get a better sense of the race from watching this debate, and CNN is hoping to get a better sense of their impressions of the debate by watching them. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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