The preliminary numbers from Monday night’s presidential debate are good news for Hillary Clinton. Here’s what those results tell us, and why there’s a lot we still don’t know. This is HuffPollster for Tuesday, September 27, 2016.
SNAP POLL SUGGESTS A DEBATE WIN FOR HILLARY CLINTON - Jennifer Agiesta: “Hillary Clinton was deemed the winner of Monday night’s debate by 62% of voters who tuned in to watch, while just 27% said they thought Donald Trump had the better night, according to a CNN/ORC Poll of voters who watched the debate. That drubbing is similar to Mitt Romney’s dominant performance over President Barack Obama in the first 2012 presidential debate….Although the survey suggested debate watchers were more apt to describe themselves as Democrats than the overall pool of voters, even independents who watched deemed Clinton the winner, 54% vs. 33% who thought Trump did the best job in the debate...Respondents were originally interviewed as part of a September 23-25 telephone survey of a random sample of Americans, and indicated they planned to watch the debate and would be willing to be re-interviewed when it was over.” [CNN]
-A second snap poll also finds that viewers thought Clinton won - A survey conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling and relying mostly on automated phone calls, found that 51 percent of debate watchers thought that Clinton won, and 42 percent that Trump did. [PPP (D)]
-Predictions markets “score the debate a rout: Clinton over Trump” [NYT]
What those numbers do, and don’t, mean - The results of snap polls like CNN’s are a step up from focus groups and online “reader polls,” in that they’re making an effort to be representative of the audience that watched the debate, rather than merely recording the opinions of whomever happens to be around to talk on TV or click on a button. Still, there are plenty of reasons to take them with a grain of salt. First, the universe of people watching the debate isn’t the same as the universe of people who will vote in the election. The debate watchers polled by CNN, for instance, expected Clinton to win by a 26-point margin, compared to just 10 percent among all likely voters. Second, it takes time to reach survey respondents. Polls that rush into the field will, by necessity, make some tradeoffs to do so, such as pre-screening for people who planned to watch the debate and are willing to answer questions afterward. And third, to the extent that debates matter ― which they often don’t ― their impact depends in large part on how they’re covered after the fact. [More, from HuffPost]
It’s still too soon to know what effects the debate will have - Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley: “It is dangerous to offer confident predictions of how the public will react to a debate immediately after it is concluded. The instant polls you may see (or may have already seen) after the debate declaring one of the candidates the winner may or may not be meaningful, and in order to fully assess the impact we’re probably going have to wait until the end of the week, when new national and state polls will assess how the two candidates’ performances changed the race. It’s no fun to urge patience — but we think that’s better than making sweeping pronouncements in the aftermath of a widely-watched national event that voters may interpret quite differently than experts may expect. The pundit consensus seems to be that Hillary Clinton ‘won,’ but we all know how many times Donald Trump has been counted out, only for him to endure. We also know that Clinton and Trump are talking to two very different countries, and political analysts and reporters are generally in the country Clinton, not Trump, inhabits. However, Trump faces many questions about his qualifications for the job and his temperament, and we don’t believe he did much to provide satisfactory answers to those concerns. Perhaps enough voters want change so much that they are willing to overlook their reservations.” [Sabato’s Crystal Ball]
GOOD, BUT NOT CONCLUSIVE, NEWS FOR CLINTON - Andrew Prokop: “[I]t’s certainly possible that Clinton will gain a few points in the polls from her debate performance, if the broader electorate agrees (or becomes convinced) that she won. After all, that’s what appeared to happen with Mitt Romney, who got a bump of a few points in public polling after he was judged to have won the first debate in 2012. But there are a few reasons to be cautious about assuming this will be the case. First of all, voters are perfectly able to conclude that one candidate ‘won’ the debate without necessarily being won over to his or her side….Second, as John Sides has written, the vast majority of people who watch these debates have already made up their minds….some Clinton supporters, because they got the sense that she won and feel excited, might be overrepresented in polls of the next few days. Conversely, some Trump supporters might not be in the mood to answer polls because they aren’t happy with how the debate went. Still, the initial indicators we have look good for Clinton, who was itching for some good news for her campaign. So we’ll see if more methodologically rigorous polls that come in later this week find that there was a serious impact on where the race stands.” [Vox]
The media consensus that Clinton won matters - John Sides: “Even if 100 million people watch the debate Monday night, their views will be shaped by the news coverage that comes afterward. Many studies have shown that news coverage helps ‘frame’ or interpret politics for average voters. For better or worse, we ‘outsource’ some of that interpretive labor to reporters and political commentators. Candidates know this, too, which is why they devote so much energy to shaping the expectations of news media actors….There is no cabal that meets in a room to decide who won the debate. But there is an ongoing conversation among reporters and political observers — now conducted in real time via Twitter — that helps to shape a narrative about who did well and who did poorly. That narrative then affects what voters believe.” [WashPost]
WHY THE DEBATE COULD SHIFT THE RACE TOWARD CLINTON - Nate Silver: “Post-debate surveys like CNN’s aren’t always popular with poll mavens, in part because the universe of poll-watchers may not match the electorate overall. The voters in CNN’s poll were Democratic-leaning by a net of 15 percentage points, for instance, a considerably wider advantage than Democrats are likely to enjoy on Election Day. But the CNN survey also historically correlates fairly well with movement in the post-election polls….Even a 2-point gain would do wonders for Clinton, who would go from a fairly uncomfortable position in the Electoral College to a fairly comfortable one, and who would emerge with a 3-to-4-point lead in the popular vote….What if Clinton doesn’t improve in the polls — or they even move toward Trump? Then that ought to be scary for Democrats, obviously. While Trump’s lack of preparation could also potentially cause him problems in the second and third debates, he showed off some of his worst qualities on Monday night, appearing to be the weaker leader than Clinton and less presidential than her, according to the CNN poll. If undecided and marginal voters were willing to shrug off Trump’s performance, then perhaps they really are in the mood for the sort of change that Trump represents, his faults be damned.” 
Why it might not - Nate Cohn: “Will the result change the race? There’s no way to be sure of how the polls will turn next. But the record of post-debate polling suggests that a victory might not matter quite as much as you might think. In general, the debates don’t have a huge effect on the polls. Historically, the polls that follow the first presidential debate have differed from the pre-debate polls by an average of just 2.5 points. The biggest shift? Only four points. Those aren’t huge numbers, although they could be enough to make the race a true dead heat or to give Mrs. Clinton a comfortable lead….One possibility is that the shift in the polls [after previous years’ debates] was a bit of a mirage. The voters of the winning debater’s party became more excited, and therefore likelier to pick up the telephone — a phenomenon called partisan differential nonresponse. Or they became likelier to be counted by pollsters as likely voters. The reverse might happen to the losing side’s voters. These shifts might affect the polls, but might not have nearly as much of an effect on the underlying chance that voters actually turn out and support their candidates. If Mrs. Clinton surges, it won’t be clear whether that’s a real shift in the race, even if it leaves Democrats feeling better.” [NYT]
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TUESDAY’S ‘OUTLIERS’ - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:
-Philip Bump reviews the biggest debate moments, according to data from Google and Facebook. [WashPost]
-Steven Shepard looks at the possibility for post-debate volatility in the polls. [Politico]
-Maddie Crum writes that Americans gravitate toward gendered terms to describe groups of men and women. [HuffPost]
-The Market Research Association files an amicus brief in a case involving an alleged “push poll.” [MRA]