Who Won the Debate? What the Polls Don’t Tell You…

September 27th, 2016 by John Richelsen



So you’re one of the estimated 80+ million viewers of the first presidential debate and you’re wondering, “Did my horse come in first?” If you’re like me, you listen to the pundits pontificate on who performed better or what did the focus groups say (Can I say that as both a researcher AND a political junkie, this time of year is like my Superbowl). The early polls of course came out all over the place. Hillary Clinton took the early fight. Donald Trump bested his opponent. So who do you trust? Unfortunately, with early snap polls, both sides are flawed.


It seems the most commonly quoted poll on the morning after is the CNN/ORC International poll which boasts a 62% Clinton victory to only a 27% Trump win. But here’s the flaw – the poll is skewed to Democrats in that more of them picked up the phone to be polled in the minutes immediately following the debate. With 41% of respondents leaning Democrat and only 27% leaning Republican, the overall average is thrown out of whack. How much out of whack? It’s considerable.

  • If you were leaning Democrat, 94% felt that Clinton won and only 3% felt that Trump won the day.
  • If you were leaning Republican, 61% felt that Trump won to only 21% felt Clinton came out victorious.


Therein lies the problem. The Hillary supporters overloaded one side by virtue of being more fervent and of greater number within the sample. So it’s not a true reflection of the overall viewing OR voting population.


Then there are the online reader polls such as the Drudge Report which show the landslide falling to Donald Trump. The flaw in these? Most liberals wouldn’t visit the Drudge Report if you paid them – so again, the sample is not representative.


Debates can be amazing theater and important components to our democratic process. Actual rolling polls will tell the story of any debate bump. But in the meantime, don’t believe everything you read.


And don’t forget to exercise your right and VOTE!