The Rising American Electorate Reacts to the First Presidential Debate

Action Fund Research — September 27, 2016

During last night’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Hofstra University, WVWVAF hired Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research to conduct dial-meter testing to get real-time reactions from white unmarried women, millennials, and persuadable voters (weak partisans and ticket-splitters). Participants were surveyed before and after the debate to determine whether the debate shifted their thinking. We followed up after the debate with online “breakout” focus groups to get a better sense of why they had reacted as they did.

The results were quite revealing, affirming the findings from the battleground surveys and focus-group research we’ve done over the past six weeks. WVWVAF founder and president Page Gardner summed up the dial groups’ findings: “Sec. Clinton’s arguments, from the economy to race relations, clearly moved these voters. But they also responded sharply to her steady temperament throughout the debate.”

Here are some of the highlights:

  • When Hillary Clinton mentioned equal pay, paid family leave, and affordable child care, reactions from unmarried women spiked — a result consistent with our recent battleground-state polls, which have found that highlighting economic positions that work for families is a strong issue for Democrats.
  • Millennials responded very positively to Hillary Clinton’s comebacks on her preparation for office, on Donald Trump’s temperament, on her own stamina.
  • Donald Trump’s history of sexist attacks wasn’t very popular; millennials and non-college-educated persuadable voters reacted positively when Hillary Clinton highlighted Trump’s sexism, and reactions cratered when Trump defended and doubled down on his mean-spirited criticism of Rosie O’Donnell.
  • In the post-debate breakout focus groups, voters’ impressions of Donald Trump were similar to what we saw in our focus groups earlier this month: They saw him as selfish, egotistical, dangerous, scary, and clueless.
  • But Hillary Clinton still has some work to do in winning many voters over; while the post-debate breakout sessions saw her as strong, experienced, knowledgeable, and composed, there are still questions about her sincerity and her willingness to keep her promises.

You can watch video of the entire debate, with reactions from key dial groups in real time, here:


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