Clinton won the first two debates too according to the scientific polls taken afterward, but if I’m remembering correctly, the margins were all over the board. What’s striking about the CNN and YouGov polls last night is how consistent the numbers are: CNN had it 52/39 for Clinton while YouGov had it 49/39. Coincidentally — or probably not coincidentally — 39 percent is exactly what Trump’s pulling right now in the four-way race nationally according to RCP’s averages. Also not coincidentally, last night’s debate polls look a lot like the two-way national race overall: RCP has it at 49/42 as of this morning. What you’re seeing here, in all likelihood, is most voters having already made up their minds about the race by now and viewing the debate through that lens. If you’re voting Clinton, you thought Clinton won. If you’re voting Trump, you thought Trump won. That effect was also present in reaction after the first two debates, I’m sure, but not as sharply since there were more undecided voters several weeks ago. This morning’s debate polls, in other words, may be a sneak preview of how the national vote three weeks from now is shaping up.
The silver lining in that gray cloud for Trump is that it means the media’s wildly overreacting to how much damage he did to himself last night in refusing to commit to accepting the election results. (Asked whether the candidates should pledge to respect the outcome, YouGov’s sample split 68/14.) That’s not going to move many votes for the simple reason that there aren’t many votes left to be moved. Said CNN, “[M]ost said their minds weren’t changed by tonight’s debate, 54% of those who watched said it would have no effect on their vote, and those who did feel swayed were about evenly split between Trump (23%) and Clinton (22%).” This is familiar too:
Aside from partisanship, the poll suggests one of the sharpest demographic divides among debate-watchers is education among whites. White voters who hold college degrees said Clinton won by a 58% to 33% margin, while those who do not have a four-year degree say Trump won by a 48% to 41% margin. And the gap between these voters on which candidate agreed with you on the issues that matter most to you is even larger, with 59% of white college debate-watchers saying Clinton does while 61% of whites without degrees say it’s Trump.
That divide, with white college grads breaking for Clinton and whites without a degree breaking for Trump, has showed up in poll after poll this year. It’s a core reason why Clinton is leading overall. Go figure that it would show up in a debate poll in late October too, when voters have developed their rooting interests and are mostly seeing what they want to see in these spectacles. If anything, the relatively narrow margin among Trump’s working-class white base on who won the debate should worry him a little, possibly as a sign that some of them are reconciling themselves to the likelihood of a Clinton presidency and viewing her more positively. Although this encouraging result, from YouGov, is worth noting:
YouGov has the race comparatively tight at 48/44, with another eight percent either undecided or split among third-party candidates. If those numbers are close to accurate, the election will be much tighter than most expect right now. And as I say, the fact that undecideds were leaning heavily towards Trump after the debate suggests that his answer about not accepting the election results isn’t the death blow the media’s claiming it as this morning.
Oh, as for the non-scientific polls last night, Trump won the Drudge poll by his usual Kim Jong-un margins but he’s less than five points ahead of Clinton in the Breitbart poll this morning with more than 250,000 votes cast. I mention that just to underscore a point made after the first debate: Online polls are lots of fun, but silly and meaningless. Obviously Breitbart’s audience is overwhelmingly pro-Trump; the support Clinton’s getting in their poll must be coming from liberal sites trying to spam it, just to mess with Breitbart’s readers. (The poll was also circulating on Twitter among liberals this morning.) Needless to say, you probably won’t hear Hannity touting the Breitbart poll on the radio today. Why would he when he has the Drudge results?