Post-debate poll: The Democratic Party won the Democratic debate

There was some confusion on the left immediately following the Democratic debate as to who won. This confusion was misdirected and silly.

As I wrote the day after the debate, you could make a plausible case that Bernie Sanders stood to gain the most as the debate represented his first impression for many Democrats, but that Hillary Clinton came away as the better politician and the better debater. This being the case, she did more to help herself, as she calmed the party’s establishment and made them less likely to jump to Joe Biden, should he mount a bid of his own. In sum, it seemed, the Democratic Party had won the Democratic debate, as both of their major candidates were strong, and at the end of the day it was the Republican Party taking it on the chin.

But supporters of Bernie Sanders weren’t convinced. They saw post-debate Internet polls and focus groups showing Sanders winning the debate by wide margins. According to them, all this talk from pundits about Hillary having “won” ranged from media bias to outright conspiracy, all part of their game to keep Sanders down and secure the nomination for Clinton.

As someone who likes Bernie a lot, this line of thinking came off as wishful. Bernie Sanders’s fans skew younger and are more active online. He organizes his rallies on Reddit and raises the bulk of his money through ActBlue and other online resources. He punches above his weight on Facebook and Twitter. It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that he would overperform in Internet polls.

Additionally, as Slate‘s Josh Voorhees wrote last week:

The Democratic candidates, screenshot via YouTube

The Democratic candidates, screenshot via YouTube

[Online polls] also tend to favor those candidates with active and impassioned fans—something that Bernie’s fundraising numbers and campaign crowds suggest he clearly has in spades. When Slate and a number of other established media outlets declared Hillary the winner, we gave that same fan base—which has long felt, not unjustifiably, that their man’s not getting a fair shake in the media—one more reason to reload the page and vote again. In online polls, like elections, it’s all about turnout. In online polls, unlike elections, you can vote as many times as you want.

Now that we’ve had a few days to decompress and conduct some systematic polling as to who won the debate, it’s even clearer that, yes, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic debate, but Bernie Sanders also didn’t lose. According to a CNN/ORC poll released this morning, 65 percent of self-described Democrats who watched the debate felt that Hillary Clinton did the best job, compared to 35 percent who indicated that Sanders delivered the best performance. When asked who did the worst, respondents clearly indicated that Chafee, Webb and O’Malley came out as the clear losers — only 5 percent said Clinton did the worst job, and only 2 percent said so of Sanders.

What’s more, both Clinton and Sanders saw their overall vote share in the Democratic primary increase after the debate. Clinton’s 45 percent vote share is up three points from the last time CNN polled the Democratic primary; Sanders’s 29 percent is up five points. Joe Biden came out as the debate’s biggest loser despite (and perhaps because of) the fact that he did not participate, dropping four points to poll at 18 percent. O’Malley, Webb and Chafee combine for two percent. Lessig was not included in the poll.

So we’re left with a situation in which the majority of respondents agree that Hillary Clinton won the debate and increased her vote share, but Sanders also performed well and picked up more support, while Biden was the only candidate to see their support drop. This fits with my earlier hypothesis that the debate helped Clinton and Sanders in different ways; Clinton shored up the establishment, while Sanders introduced himself to millions of Democrats who aren’t as active on social media as his original base of support.

This is perhaps the best outcome the Democratic Party could have hoped for. Their establishment candidate is strengthened, but her sparring partner also picked up support and confirmed that she will need to keep making commitments to the party’s left flank if she hopes to keep the party united into next fall.

So, again, the Democratic Party won the Democratic debate.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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14 Responses to “Post-debate poll: The Democratic Party won the Democratic debate”

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  2. Houndentenor says:

    There are almost a dozen of those on the GOP side. Someone joked the other day that in some of the polling, no one polled picked some of the candidates (Graham for example). Do they have any support at all? Their zeroes are not rounding down. They literally had no respondents polled who chose them.

    In case you missed this, I heard yesterday that Webb is considering running as an independent. LOL Do people have any idea how hard it is to get on the ballot without a party behind you? I knew people who volunteered for Perot in 92 and even with that level of support it was problematic to qualify.

  3. BeccaM says:

    True enough. They’re like Bobby Jindal: “What? Still running? I thought he’d dropped out weeks ago…”

    If nothing else, at least the debates rub their faces in their shame and loser-dom, plus the donors get their wakeup call and usually soon after decide to stop throwing good money after bad.

    Right now, there’s only one candidate on the Dem side besides Hillary who matters at all, and that’s Bernie — because he’s making her work to win his supporters. This is a good thing, IMO. (I still predict she’s gonna be the nominee, although I’ve been wrong before.)

  4. Houndentenor says:

    I had forgotten either Chaffee or Webb was running until I saw that they were going to be in the debate. I know you knew they were running but seriously if either stopped campaigning tomorrow with no announcement of withdrawing or suspending his campaign, how long would it be before you noticed? Days? Weeks? They just aren’t significant in any way.

  5. mf_roe says:

    Saw Lessig on REAL TIME, his performance did little to suggest that his missing the debate was a great loss. He has retracted his promise to resign after passing his single issue, public financing of elections.

    Bernie’s spot on the same show was pretty lively and Maher seemed to endorse him even while giving Sanders grief about not pushing Socialism harder. I think Maher has a point–the term Socialism has been slandered by Repugs and even some Dems. Sanders gives the impression that he is more confident of voters acceptance of socialist ideas than the actual label, I tend to agree, but like Maher I think we need to work on educating the voters. But I ‘m sure Bernie will need our help on that.

    .

  6. BeccaM says:

    You’re asking *me* if I knew who was running for the Democratic party nomination before the debate? C’mon, you have to know me better than that.

    I was even aware that Lawrence Lessig, the law professor from Harvard and another declared candidate for the nomination, didn’t make the cut.

  7. Houndentenor says:

    As if anyone cares. Seriously before the debate did you even know he was running? Okay maybe you read that somewhere but had you thought about the fact that he or Webb were even in the race? No, and neither had anyone else hence their low poll numbers. There’s no need for either he or Webb to drop out of the race. Hardly anyone noticed they were even in it.

  8. mf_roe says:

    Chafee and Webb both should do the honorable thing and quietly retire, a two way (or three way if you include asterisk) debate would serve the voters better than serial stump speeches which avoid confrontation in the name of unity.

  9. BeccaM says:

    I agree as well. Sanders proved he actually has principles and will stick to them. Chafee, on the other hand, showed us all just how craven he really is — and he’s suffered for it. The contrast could not be more clear.

  10. Don Chandler says:

    Did Biden vote against Iraq War 2? NO.

    Did Hillary vote against Iraq War 2? NO.

    Did Bernie Sanders stand against the Iraq War 2? Yes:

    http://www.sanders.senate.gov/video/flashback-rep-bernie-sanders-opposes-iraq-war

    “Fifth, I am concerned about the problems of so-called unintended consequences. Who will govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed and what role will the U.S. play in ensuing a civil war that could develop in that country? Will moderate governments in the region who have large Islamic fundamentalist populations be overthrown and replaced by extremists? Will the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority be exacerbated? And these are just a few of the questions that remain unanswered.”

    Prescient Sanders.

  11. mf_roe says:

    I agree, in fact Sanders didn’t defend OR accuse Clinton he simply stated he was tired of the BS surrounding the issue and that he had BIGGER ISSUES to address.

    We don’t live in a world where eMail/computer security issues or “gotcha” blaming have a higher priority than re-establishing honest balance to our society.

    But sooner or later Sanders must go on the attack not of the repugs, but of the faux claims of Clinton supporters. Bernie draws a clear distinction between hiself and the Repugs. He must also make a harder sell to the voters why He is offering a better choice than Clinton. Just attacking Repugs just carries Clinton’s water.

  12. Houndentenor says:

    Adults have serious discussions of important issues. How sad that this is considered exceptional and not the norm.

    One thing I need to get off my chest…a lot of people have remarked that Sanders should have taken the opening provided to slam Clinton. No, he shouldn’t. The think I like best about Sanders is that he doesn’t do crap like that. If he were to start he’d be just another sleazy politician and his poll numbers would be cut in half if not more the next morning. I would encourage all of them not to take cheap shots (they haven’t been on the Dem side so far) and stay focused on issues and policy proposals. Negativity just drives down turnout. If they want people to show up to vote in the primaries and the general election they need to stay focused on the issues voters care about. I applaud Sanders for not taking the bait and hope the others won’t either. The media loves the dog fights and the horse race. If they get in front of a camera they should talk about things that matter, not stupid crap. It’s an election not Keeping up with the Kardashians.

  13. mf_roe says:

    The Chinese terms yīn 陰 or 阴 “shady side” and yáng 陽 or 阳 “sunny side”

  14. Indigo says:

    They make a good ticket. Hillary’s Yang to Bernie’s Yin. Nice balance.

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