THE POLLS AND FOCUS GROUPS…. The insta-reactions in the polls are not always the most reliable measurements. The sample sizes are modest, and the public is often swayed after the fact by media analysis. That said, the initial data after last night’s debate certainly looks favorable for Obama.

Isaac Chotiner noted the focus group results, for example: “For what it’s worth: The Frank Luntz and Stanley Greenberg focus groups went overwhelmingly for Obama.”

The CBS poll, which focused exclusively on undecided voters, found that a plurality, 39% to 25%, believed Obama “won” the debate, though over a third, 36%, saw it as a “draw.”

CNN appears to have released the longest and most detailed of the debate-related polls. TPM reported:

Regardless of which candidate you happen to support, who do you think did the best job in the debate — Barack Obama or John McCain?
Obama 51%
McCain 38%

Did _______ do a better or worse job than you expected?
Obama: Better 57%, Worse 20%, Same 23%
McCain: Better 60%, Worse 20%, Same 18%

Next, regardless of which presidential candidate you support, please tell me if you think Barack Obama or John McCain would better handle each of the following issues:
* The war in Iraq: Obama 52%, McCain 47%
* Terrorism: McCain 49%, Obama 45%
* The economy: Obama 58%, McCain 37%
* The current financial crisis: Obama 54%, McCain 36%

The respondents to the CNN poll also found Obama to be “more intelligent,” more eloquent, more sincere, more likable, more in touch with the needs of regular people, and someone who seems like a “strong leader.” McCain had a huge edge when it came to which candidate “spent more time attacking his opponent.”

Asked about the candidates’ readiness to handle the job of president, 69% expressed confidence in Obama, and 68% said the same about McCain.

Nate Silver has some solid analysis of the data, which is worth checking out.

I’d just add that these polls matter, not just in offering a glimpse at the public’s response, but also because the results help shape the conventional wisdom.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.