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Another Democratic debate, another poll! We once again partnered with Ipsos to track how Wednesday’s debate, hosted by The Washington Post and MSNBC, affected likely primary voters’ feelings about the candidates. The FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, interviewed the same group of voters twice, on either side of the debate, to capture both the “before” and “after” picture.
Who won the debate?
The over- (and under-) performers
How favorably all likely primary voters felt about each candidate before the debate vs. how well respondents who watched the debate thought each candidate did
To better understand which candidates did well or poorly Wednesday night, we plotted how favorably respondents rated the candidates before the debate vs. how debate-watchers rated their performance. One thing that immediately stands out: Respondents, on average, thought Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren had the strongest debate performances, which is especially notable for Buttigieg because he was slightly less well-liked going into the night. Candidates like Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker, who are polling well behind the leaders, also got strong performance scores relative to their pre-debate favorability ratings. On the other hand, Tulsi Gabbard’s and Joe Biden’s performance scores were notably low in relation to their pre-debate popularity.
The numbers behind the chart
|Candidate||Pre-debate favorability||Debate performance|
In terms of raw debate grades — respondents graded candidates on a four-point scale (higher scores are better) — Buttigieg and Warren tied for first in their average scores; they were closely followed by Sanders and Booker. Tom Steyer and (especially) Gabbard received the worst marks.
How the race changed
Who gained (and lost) support
Share of respondents who are considering voting for each candidate
Before debateAfter debate
Respondents could pick multiple candidates or ‘someone else.’
Despite Biden’s relatively mediocre marks for his performance, more than half of voters still said they were considering voting for him — and that number actually increased by nearly 2 percentage points post-debate. The biggest winner, though, was clearly Buttigieg, who gained just over 6 points in potential support. Only Sanders experienced a dip in potential support, and it was very small.
The popularity contest
Candidates' favorable and unfavorable ratings among likely primary voters
We also asked likely Democratic primary voters how favorably they felt about each candidate both before and after the debate. Andrew Yang and Klobuchar saw the largest jumps in net favorability (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) — 4.6 points and 4.0 points, respectively. Buttigieg also made solid gains, climbing nearly 3 points in net favorability. In contrast, Gabbard and Biden saw the biggest decrease in net favorability, dropping by 4.5 points and 3.3 points. Gabbard’s unfavorable rating increased by about 7 points.
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Which matters most: policy positions … or winning?
Share of likely primary voters by whether, if they had to choose, they’d prefer a candidate who has a good chance of beating Trump or a candidate who agrees with them on the issues
Excludes respondents who chose ‘I don't know enough to say.’
Voters were also asked what matters more to them — a candidate who agrees with them on most issues or someone who would have a good chance of defeating President Trump — and as you can see, there was only a slight change in the post-debate numbers compared to pre-debate responses. After Wednesday night, the share of likely Democratic primary voters who prioritized issues ticked up by a few percentage points.
Who voters think can beat Trump
Respondents’ estimates of the likelihood, from 0 percent (impossible) to 100 percent (certain), that each candidate would beat Trump if they were the Democratic nominee
Finally, we asked respondents to estimate each Democrat’s chances of defeating Trump, from 0 percent (no chance) to 100 percent (certain to win). Going into the debate, as in other general-election polls, Biden was the candidate voters thought was most likely to beat Trump, on average. He still leads on that question after the fifth debate, but, as you can see below, his average rating dropped by almost 2 points. Most other candidates, however, saw their average rating improve. Buttigieg, in particular, gained just over 3 points, while Klobuchar and Steyer saw smaller bumps.
Respondents’ average rating of candidates’ chances vs. Trump
|Candidate||Pre-debate average||Post-debate average||Diff.|