The quantitative evidence (courtesy of Spack):
A friend emails, under the headline “CBS Poll of 500 Undecided Voters:
40 percent said Obama wins. 22 percent. say Mccain
McCain won slightly on right decisions on the war in Iraq. Obama won 68 percent for right decisions on the economy. (!)
GQR focus of independents gives it to Obama
CBS: 40-22 among independents.
Luntz focus gives it to Obama.
CNN/OPINION RESEARCH CORPORATION POLL OF DEBATE WATCHERS
Who Did the Best Job In the Debate?
Who Would Better Handle Economy?
Who Would Better Handle Iraq?
The qualitative evidence (courtesy of Fallows):
When the details of this encounter fade, as they soon will, I think the debate as a whole will be seen as of a piece with Kennedy-Nixon in 1960, Reagan-Carter in 1980, and Clinton-Bush in 1992.
In each of those cases, a fresh, new candidate (although chronologically older in Reagan’s case) had been gathering momentum at a time of general dissatisfaction with the “four more years” option of sticking with the incumbent party. The question was whether the challenger could stand as an equal with the more experienced, tested, and familiar figure. In each of those cases, the challenger passed the test — not necessarily by “winning” the debate, either on logical points or in immediate audience or polling reactions, but by subtly reassuring doubters on the basic issue of whether he was a plausible occupant of the White House and commander in chief.
So yeah, Obama won, in any meaningful sense of the word.