October 19 Debate: Clinton Trounces Trump

Action Fund Research — October 20, 2016

Going into last night’s third and final presidential debate, we had some big questions: Would Sec. Clinton be able to secure her recent gains in the polls? Could Donald Trump close his polling deficit by keeping his composure and knocking Sec. Clinton off her game? Would Sec. Clinton’s big lead translate to success for Democrats in Senate and House races?

To get these answers, we worked with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Democracy Corps to identify five groups of voters whose impressions could make the difference not only in the presidential contest but also in contested House and Senate races: White millennials, minority millennials, white unmarried women, white non-college persuadable voters, and ticket-splitters (people who support Sec. Clinton but also support their state’s Republican Senate candidate).

Just like we did during the first presidential debate, we conducted live dial-meter testing during the debate (which we also streamed on Facebook Live) and post-debate focus groups to see how their opinions had changed throughout the debate.

The overall takeaways:

  • It was a very good night for Hillary Clinton, who won the debate by a margin of 57%-26% and did what she needed to do to consolidate her support.
  • Donald Trump didn’t do himself any favors; his low points included refusing to accept the results of the election, claiming that he respects women, and defending his bromance with Vladimir Putin.
  • Sec. Clinton’s performance may have helped battleground-state Democratic Senate candidates, whose support in our focus groups increased by 9% — from 46% to 55% — over the course of the debate.

Here are some specific highlights from the live-dial reactions and post-debate focus groups:

  • Sec. Clinton’s live-dial numbers were strongest when she talked about an economy that works for everyone, particularly among white working-class persuadable voters and minority millennials — and the post-debate reactions confirmed that, as Sec. Clinton gained 16 favorability points on looking out for the middle class and 8 points on producing a better economy.
  • None of the live-dial groups were buying it when Trump claimed that he respects women. By the end of the debate, Trump’s supporters were 9 points less certain about their votes, and he didn’t make any gains in personal attributes.
  • Sec. Clinton’s biggest improvements were on honesty and trustworthiness, according to the post-debate focus groups… her personal image improved by 11 points over the course of the evening.
  • The reactions of the “ticket-splitters” to the debate may point to the path forward in the final stretch of the campaign: they overwhelmingly pointed to Clinton’s economic priorities and ability to look out for people like them and the middle class as the most impressive moments in the evening.

If you’d like to see how the live-dials reacted at key moments in the debate, here’s a video of the whole debate with the dial reactions overlaid:


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