UPDATED Sep. 30, 2020, at 1:30 PM

Who Won The First 2020 Presidential Debate?

We partnered with Ipsos to poll voters before and after the candidates took the stage.

On Tuesday, President Trump and Joe Biden faced off for the first time, in a rocky and, at times, tumultuous debate. We once again partnered with Ipsos to track how the debate affected Americans’ views of the election, using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel to interview the same group of people both before and after the debate. The topline is clear: Americans were not impressed with the president’s performance. Whether that will actually lead people to change their votes remains to be seen, though it seems unlikely.

Biden may have gained a little support, but many still think Trump has a good chance of winning

How likely respondents are to vote for each candidate and how likely, they think each candidate is to win, on a scale from 0 (no chance) to 10 (absolutely certain)

Respondents were also given the option of third-party candidates or ‘someone else.’ Additionally, they could indicate that they will not vote.

Most respondents started out firmly in either Biden or Trump’s camp, and the debate didn’t change that: In fact, very few people changed their minds at all about how likely they were to vote for each candidate.

That said, the debate did have a bit more of an effect on who people think will win the presidency. Slightly more respondents now think both candidates have some chance of winning, although those respondents gave Biden a slightly better chance of winning than Trump.

Biden got higher marks for his performance — and his policies

How respondents rated each candidate’s debate performance and their answers on policies


Only among respondents who said that they had watched some or all of the debate.

Debate watchers were pretty decisive in their verdict of last night’s performances: Only about one-third said Trump’s performance was “somewhat good” or “very good,” and 50 percent said it was “very poor.” Biden’s performance was more positively received, with around 60 percent saying they thought he performed well. Respondents gave more mixed grades on how they thought the candidates outlined their policies, but Biden received better marks here, too: Almost 60 percent said they thought his policies were “somewhat good” or “very good,” compared to about 40 percent who said the same for Trump.

Most voters are definitely still planning to vote

How likely respondents are to vote in the 2020 presidential election, by preferred candidate

Lost supportGained support
Lost supportGained support

Respondents were asked to rate how likely they were to vote for each candidate on a scale of 0-10, and their preferred candidate is the one who received the higher score. Respondents who gave both candidates the same score are not included. Respondents who already voted are included in the “absolutely certain” bucket and respondents who gave themselves a 50-50 shot of voting are included in the “not too likely” bucket.

Going into the debate, each candidate’s supporters were already overwhelmingly likely to say they were going to vote, and last night’s debate didn’t change that. Both candidates saw some movement among their supporters, but don’t read too much into these shifts. Any change was within the poll’s margin of error.


The popularity contest

How favorably respondents rated each candidate

Americans’ negative opinion of the president’s debate performance did not improve an already poor impression of Trump. Going into the debate, more people had a negative opinion of Trump, but after the debate, the gap between Biden and Trump’s net favorability (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) grew even larger, from 26 points to 33 points.