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: