Harris Sees Debate Bump While Biden Holds Steady

At look at the before and after polling numbers.

The gang at 538 are asking the same question as most of us: “Who Won The First Democratic Debate?” But they’re going about it slightly differently.

The best measure we normally have for who “won” a debate is polling that simply asks respondents that question — “Who do you think won?” But candidates don’t enter the debates on equal footing; some are more popular or better known than others. To really understand who was helped or hurt by their debate performance, you’d want both the “before” and “after” pictures.

So we’re partnering with Morning Consult to track how feelings about the candidates change by interviewing the same group of voters — people who say they’re likely to vote in the Democratic primary — before and after the first two primary debates.

So far, so good.

Among all 20 candidates, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro earned the highest scores for their debate performances relative to their favorability rating before they took the stage, according to the voters in our poll. Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker also rated well, but their scores were more in line with their pre-debate favorability. Meanwhile, voters didn’t exactly think Beto O’Rourke did badly on Night 1, but his grades were underwhelming given his popularity.

They issue the standard caveat:

Remember, this is only one poll — we’ll need to see other surveys to be sure we know how the debates affected voters — but Harris’s second-night performance doubled her support; she went from just under 8 percent before Night 1 to almost 17 percent percent now. Much of that support came from voters who previously said they were backing Warren or Joe Biden. Speaking of Biden: He lost a bunch of voters — mostly to Harris, but also to Warren, Buttigieg and others. We’ll have to see whether these shifts stick or if voters keep moving around in the next few days and weeks.

So, Biden lost big? Not exactly.

Harris, Castro, Booker and Warren, the big winners with viewers in terms of their debate performances, also got big boosts in their net favorable ratings. (Castro especially.) And while Biden lost some supporters, his overwhelmingly positive favorability ratings didn’t really change, suggesting that he can still recover even if he hurt his cause on Thursday night. 

Here’s what it looks like in graphic form:

Bidens’ favorables went down less than a point and his unfavorables up by 3 points. But that’s indeed pretty steady, a reflection of how well-entrenched views of him are with likely Democratic voters—92% of whom had opinions before the debate.

By contrast, look at Marianne Williamson. Almost nobody had much of an opinion of her before last night. Her favorables almost doubled and her unfavorables almost tripled. But, again, that’s a reflection of people forming impressions, not a massive swing in pre-existing opinion. Indeed, even after the debate, fewer than half the respondents had an opinion one way or the other!

Among candidates people were familiar with, then, Warren, Booker, Harris, and Buttigieg all helped themselves considerably. And nobody really seems to have been hurt by the debates, unless you count coming away still being unknown.

Update (Doug Mataconis): Via Sam Stein on Twitter, I found this interesting:

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I don’t think these overnight insta-polls are all that helpful. We’re not really going to know for a week or two what impact the first debate had on the race. Most likely not until the 2nd week of July since he July 4th long weekend (for many people) is approaching. By then, people will be focusing on the second debate at the end of July.

  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Biden also lost support of Tom McInerney, a major SF fund-raiser…”for now”.
    Guarantee you Biden’s “hoodie” comment doesn’t help him.

    “That kid wearing a hoodie might be the next poet laureate and not a gangbanger.”

  3. Scott says:

    I didn’t watch the debates because, to decrease my stress over politics, I have pretty much stopped watching the news. And I also realized that I’m not going to vote for Trump under any circumstances and so I don’t have to worry about that either. As a baby boomer (65), my preferences is anyone under 60 which eliminates Biden, Sanders, and Warren. Right now, I am at the watching and waiting stage and can totally live with Harris, Buttigieg, Castro and some of the others.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I always feel like favorables are more fickle than unfavorables, in other words once somebody decides they don’t like you, they’re done with you. Especially if this is their first real look at you. Time for a number of folks to look in the mirror here.

  5. Scott F. says:

    @Doug Mataconis: the insta-polls also don’t show the ripple effects of the debate. If Biden digs in his heels, like he did today with his statement professing that he’s never opposed “voluntary” busing (??) then the press will keep showing the archival record of those anti-busing bills, and trends will take more shape.

  6. Tyrell says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Joe has been running around apologizing too much. He is not a racist. Next some Democrat candidate will say he abuses dogs.
    These things that a candidate did or said decades ago are irrelevant now. I well remember when this “forced” busing started up; the misguided idea of some federal judges. Most people today have no earthly idea what “forced busing” was. And no one was or is forced to ride a bus.
    I admit my mindset is somewhat in the past. But “forced busing” is a relic, over and done with. “Magnet” schools, that gave parents choices, replaced cross town, cross county bus rides. Some of the judges who ordered “forced” busing later came to admit it was wrong and did not achieve its desired purpose. No one was forced to ride a bus.
    I spent many a morning and afternoon riding the school bus down dusty, hot roads around here. Many of the roads were dirt. Still are. “Tobacco Road”.
    “Riding a school bus is a privilege. Not a right” My school principal told us that over and over. Some students didn’t heed the message and ended up walking home for a week. “Alright, Butch! Get off and start walking!”

  7. Mister Bluster says:

    Some of the judges who ordered “forced” busing later came to admit it was wrong and did not achieve its desired purpose.

    Names and juristictions please.

  8. Paine says:

    To avoid future problems, the Dems should put in place now what I will call the “Williamson Bar”: find out what sort of threshold (2%, 3%, etc.) would have kept that crackpot off the stage and use that for all early debates going forward.

    On a more serious note… I’m of two minds at the moment. On the one hand, I like the idea of a senior/junior ticket with Biden/Warren/Sanders teaming up with a Buttigieg/Harris/Gillibrand type. An older, more experienced candidate will contrast nicely with Trump and set us up well for the next 12-16 years.

    On the other, I’m really impressed with Harris. She doesn’t strike me as the sort of person who would tolerate TRump’s nonsense nor does she seem like the kind of person who cares about coming off as “shrill” or whatever adjective is used to dismiss female candidates. She’d chew him up in the debates and the fact that she is a strong, intelligent black woman would draw out some really nasty elements on the right which could potentially push some of the mushy middle in our direction.

    It’s a tough choice.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    …nor does she seem like the kind of person who cares about coming off as “shrill” or whatever adjective is used to dismiss female candidates.

    Perhaps that line of attack would be much less successful against her than it was/is against Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren…

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I don’t think these overnight insta-polls are all that helpful. We’re not really going to know for a week or two what impact the first debate had on the race. Most likely not until the 2nd week of July since he July 4th long weekend (for many people) is approaching. By then, people will be focusing on the second debate at the end of July.

    Day-by-day analysis of political races isn’t all that useful. But if we’re trying to gauge the impact of the debate, immediate before and after polls are our best bet. Otherwise, how do we disaggregate campaigning and other events?

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I always feel like favorables are more fickle than unfavorables, in other words once somebody decides they don’t like you, they’re done with you.

    That’s almost certainly right.