How much damage did the debate
do to Donald Trump?
do to Donald Trump?
The reviews are in, and they are virtually unanimous: Donald Trump had a horrible debate on Monday night against Hillary Clinton. He was unprepared, unconvincing, and off-putting. On Wednesday, the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, hardly a redoubt of liberal sophistry, published a piece by Jason L. Riley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who wrote, “If Mr. Trump had a strategy for winning Monday night’s face-off with Mrs. Clinton, it remains as secret as his plan to defeat [the] Islamic State.”
During an appearance on CNN on Tuesday, Jeffrey Lord, a Trump surrogate, was reduced to making the argument that ordinary Americans may have seen things differently than the pundits did. That’s possible; but so far there isn’t any evidence to back it up, and there’s quite a bit of evidence to contradict it. Setting aside the online polls, which make no effort to make their samples random or representative, the survey evidence suggests that Trump suffered a resounding defeat.
A YouGov poll published on Tuesday found that fifty-seven per cent of the people who watched the debate thought that Clinton won, and thirty per cent thought that Trump won. (Thirteen per cent weren’t sure who the victor was.) In another poll, which Politico/Morning Consult carried out on Monday night and into Tuesday, the breakdown was forty-nine per cent to twenty-six per cent in Clinton’s favor.
That’s a huge margin, but what does it mean? Obviously, it doesn’t imply that the election is over. Much more goes into people’s voting decisions than how the candidates perform in a television face-off, and, in any case, there are two more of them to come. Trump might do better in the second and third debates, which are scheduled for Sunday, October 9th, and Wednesday, October 19th. This Wednesday, the Times published a story saying that Trump’s campaign advisers plan to drill him a lot more intensively before the next debate. And much else will happen in the almost six weeks left before voting day. In many other countries, six weeks is an entire campaign.
Still, what happened on Monday night shouldn’t be underestimated. America is a huge, heterogeneous country with relatively low levels of political participation. While journalists and people involved in politics obsess over every twist and turn of the campaign, most people don’t. They tune in here and there, particularly for set-piece events, such as the Conventions and the debates. Such casual engagement with politics might not be very healthy for democracy, but it’s a fact. That’s why normal Presidential campaigns put so much time and effort into preparing their candidates for the debates.
In the coming days, Clinton’s poll lead may well expand by more than two per cent, and perhaps by as much as four or five per cent. That’s partly because she was already on a slight upward trend in the days before the debate and also because she stands to benefit from all the positive coverage she has received in its aftermath. But the main reason is that Clinton did what she needed to do—rallying her base and appealing to independents. Trump didn’t meet his objectives—and further numbers suggest that’s putting it kindly.
One of Clinton’s challenges, going way back to the primaries, has been inspiring enthusiasm in progressive Democrats, particularly men, many of whom supported Bernie Sanders. But, after Monday’s debate, according to the Politico/Morning Consult poll, seventy four per cent of Democratic men said that they had a more favorable opinion of her after the debate. Fifty-two per cent said their opinion was “much more favorable.” That’s important. It suggests that, as the debates progress, Clinton could well take more votes from Johnson and Stein.
Clinton may also have picked up a bit of ground among independents, particularly independents who think of themselves as moderate rather than either liberal or conservative.
With Trump, those numbers were flipped: twenty-six per cent of moderate independents said that they had a more favorable opinion of him after the debate; thirty-nine per cent said they had a less favorable opinion. The figures for the entire sample were similar. Thirty per cent of respondents over all said that they had a more favorable opinion of Trump after the debate; thirty-seven per cent said they had a less favorable opinion.
That as many as three in ten Americans raised their opinion of Trump after watching his performance should give the pundit class pause. But that number will provide little solace to Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, and her colleagues. Trump has a large following, which responds enthusiastically to his bluster: nothing new there. But can he expand his support into a majority? Almost nothing about his performance on Monday night suggested that he can. Clinton, meanwhile, strengthened her lead.
Source: The New Yorker, John Cassidy, Sept. 28, 2016. Mr Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. Read more...