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If something is going to shake up the race before the Iowa caucuses, it’s likely to be a debate. So we partnered with Ipsos to once again track how Thursday’s debate, hosted by ABC News, affected likely primary voters’ feelings about the candidates. The FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, interviewed the same group of voters twice to capture both the “before” and “after” picture of the debate.
To better understand which candidates did well or poorly Thursday night, we plotted how favorably respondents rated the candidates before the debate vs. how debate-watchers rated their performance. Warren was one of the better-liked candidates going into the debate, but her performance was still rated higher than we’d expect based on her favorability alone. The same was true of Booker, Buttigieg and (especially) O’Rourke. Interestingly, Klobuchar didn’t get a great debate rating, but it’s not bad considering her pre-debate favorability, which was pretty neutral. Biden and Sanders are very popular with Democrats but failed to get correspondingly high scores on their debate performance, while Castro stands out for getting the worst debate grade — even considering his relatively lukewarm favorability rating going in.
|Candidate||Pre-debate favorability||Debate performance|
In terms of raw debate grades — respondents graded on a four-point scale (higher scores are better) — Warren, Buttigieg and O’Rourke did best. Booker, Sanders, Biden and Harris did fine.
Respondents could pick multiple candidates.
The field may be shrinking, but many voters are still considering multiple candidates. Overall, we didn’t see huge shifts in the wake of the third debate, but there was some movement. Warren got the biggest increase — 2.4 percentage points — in the share of likely Democratic primary voters who are considering supporting her. Buttigieg and Klobuchar each gained a little over a point in potential support — 1.5 points for him and 1.3 points for her. Harris, meanwhile, saw the biggest drop in potential supporters, declining 2.5 points. Biden’s support barely budged; neither did O’Rourke’s, even though the former representative got positive marks for his performance.
We also asked respondents to estimate each Democrat’s chances of defeating President Trump — from 0 percent to 100 percent. Polls show Democratic primary voters are prioritizing “electability,” but who do they think is electable? As you can see in the chart above, Klobuchar, who had one of the lower average scores going into the debate, saw fewer respondents say she had zero chance of defeating Trump. Buttigieg likewise had fewer people rate him as having no chance. Biden and Sanders, meanwhile, saw a small drop in the share of respondents who said they were certain those candidates would beat Trump.
|Candidate||Pre-debate average||Post-debate average||Diff|
There wasn’t much movement in respondents’ average estimates of how likely each candidate would be to defeat Trump in the general election. Most candidates saw their average likelihood increase, but only marginally. Klobuchar saw the largest bump, 2.1 percentage points, followed by Warren and Yang.
We asked likely Democratic primary voters how favorably they felt about each candidate both before and after the debate. As you can see, among the polling front-runners, Biden and Sanders’s favorability ratings remained relatively unchanged, while Warren’s net favorability (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) jumped by a little over 4 points. In fact, only O’Rourke fared better than Warren; his net favorability rating increased a little over 7 points. But not all candidates made a positive impression. Castro’s net favorability, for instance, dropped by 10 points this time, after getting a big boost in the first debate.