Xbox Live gamers paused from their usual Wednesday night online multiplayer battles against interstellar invaders and zombies to weigh in on the first presidential debate. Xbox users, jacked in through their Internet-connected consoles, are in a better position than most people to answer a quick poll, and Microsoft, which delivers gaming and other entertainment via the Internet through its Xbox Live service, took advantage of its captive audience to conduct some political research.
Microsoft acknowledges the limited scope of the poll, says it is still analyzing the data, and hasn't widely publicized the survey results at this point. Still, David Rothschild, an economist with Microsoft Research and a fellow at Columbia University's Applied Statistics Center in New York City, shared some preliminary findings at Scientific American's request.
More than 10,000 Xbox Live users responded during the debate. Whereas most of them indicated up front that President Obama's views more closely aligned with their own, for example, on the economy, their responses during the debate suggested that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got the better of the incumbent. "We found that 'undecideds' broke for Romney while Obama consistently lost support from his base," Rothschild says.
Microsoft posed 10 questions during the debate to customers. The company created a baseline of the audience by asking Xbox Live users to respond to questions including: "What is the likelihood you will vote in this election?", "If the election were held today, who would you vote for?", and "In the election for President, have you decided who to vote for?" For this last question, 72 percent responded that they had "definitely decided", 17 percent were "leaning" toward a candidate and the rest were "still trying to decide". When asked which candidate comes closer to their position on the economy, 57 percent chose Obama and 31 percent chose Romney, with the remaining 12 percent "not sure".
Yet, for nine of out the 10 poll questions, endorsements for Romney's performance exceeded his baseline of Republican supporters. President Obama did not fair nearly as well—eight out of 10 times he fell below his baseline of Democratic supporters. Approximately 30 percent of participants identified themselves as undecided or not leaning strong toward either candidate, according to Rothschild, who develops election forecast models for Microsoft Research as a means of studying the effectiveness of different data algorithms.
After each of the debate's segments, Microsoft posed questions related to the topics they were discussing at the moment, such as taxes, the economy and healthcare. Questions included: "Which candidate was more persuasive on tax policy?" and "Which candidate was more persuasive for healthcare?" The researchers are still breaking down the results, "but the key result was clear—Romney was consistently above his baseline on these questions and Obama was consistently below," Rothschild says.
Nearly 70 percent of respondents indicated that would not only vote in the upcoming election but would also communicate their position on the candidates via social media, Rothschild adds.
Microsoft hasn't released the exact number of participants, saying only that while about 10,000 users respond to its daily Xbox Live polls participation in this event far exceeded that number. The following video shows how poll questions appeared to Xbox users during one particular segment of the debate.