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Clinton Wins Third Debate, Gains Ground as 'Presidential'

Clinton Wins Third Debate, Gains Ground as 'Presidential'

Story Highlights

  • Clinton beat Trump 60% to 31% in perceptions of who won debate
  • Clinton gained ground for appearing presidential
  • Trump competitive on economic issues

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Hillary Clinton won round three of the 2016 presidential debates, according to Americans who watched or listened to the event on Wednesday evening. Six in 10 of those who tuned in thought Clinton did the better job, while 31% chose Donald Trump.

Perceptions of Who Won Each Debate -- by Party ID
Regardless of which candidate you happen to support, who do you think did the better job in [last/Wednesday] night's debate -- [Hillary Clinton (or) Donald Trump]?
Hillary Clinton Donald Trump Candidate advantage
% % (pct. pts.)
All debate viewers
Third debate 60 31 Clinton +29
Second debate 53 35 Clinton +18
First debate 61 27 Clinton +34
Democrats
Third debate 96 2 Clinton +94
Second debate 93 3 Clinton +90
First debate 92 3 Clinton +89
Independents
Third debate 58 35 Clinton +23
Second debate 51 32 Clinton +19
First debate 59 30 Clinton +29
Republicans
Third debate 19 64 Trump +45
Second debate 15 71 Trump +56
First debate 28 53 Trump +25
Among U.S. adults who watched or listened to each debate
Gallup; post-debate polls based on interviewing conducted Sept. 27-28, 2016, Oct. 10-11, 2016, and Oct. 20-21, 2016

Clinton's sweep of all three debates puts her in the company of Barack Obama in 2008, John Kerry in 2004 and Bill Clinton in 1996. Each won all of the presidential debates that took place in those election years, although Kerry still failed to win the 2004 election.

In addition to nearly unanimously being perceived as the winner by rank-and-file Democrats (96%) for her performance in the debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Clinton was the solid pick among political independents (58%). Nearly one in five Republicans (19%) also chose her as the winner.

The 29-percentage-point overall advantage for Clinton in perceptions of who won the third debate is almost as big as her 34-point lead over Trump in the first debate. A bare majority of Republicans thought Trump won the first debate -- his worst performance of the three. And Clinton's third-debate advantage is a clear improvement over her 18-point lead in overall perceptions of who won the second debate.

Two-Thirds of Female Viewers Pick Clinton as the Winner

Part of the reason for Clinton's strong advantage over Trump in all three post-debate polls is the high proportion of women naming her as the winner in each. Most recently, 67% of women watching the third debate said Clinton performed best, whereas 26% chose Trump -- better than 2-to-1. Men also chose Clinton over Trump, but by a slimmer 19-point margin (54% vs. 35%).

Perceptions of Who Won Each Debate -- by Gender
Regardless of which candidate you happen to support, who do you think did the better job in [last/Wednesday] night's debate -- [Hillary Clinton (or) Donald Trump]?
Hillary Clinton Donald Trump Clinton advantage
% % (pct. pts.)
Women
Third debate 67 26 +41
Second debate 58 32 +26
First debate 69 21 +48
Men
Third debate 54 35 +19
Second debate 49 38 +11
First debate 53 33 +20
Among U.S. adults who watched or listened to each debate
Gallup; post-debate polls based on interviewing conducted Sept. 27-28, 2016, Oct. 10-11, 2016, and Oct. 20-21, 2016

Clinton Stretches Her Advantage as "Presidential"

After each debate, Gallup has asked viewers to compare the candidates' performance on four specific personal dimensions, including their command of the issues, appearance as presidential, likability and ability to be inspiring.

Clinton excelled on perceptions of competency in the first debate, with 62% saying she had the better understanding of issues versus 26% naming Trump on this dimension. In the second debate, her ratings for being likable inched higher while the others held steady or sagged slightly. In the third debate, she made some headway on the final two qualities:

  • Sixty-four percent of viewers chose Clinton as the more presidential of the two candidates on the Nevada stage, up from 56% in the second debate and 59% in the first.
  • The percentage choosing Clinton as the more inspiring increased slightly -- to 50% from 44% in the second debate and 46% in the first.

Perceptions of Candidates' Personal Qualities
Thinking about the following characteristics and qualities, please say whether you think each one better described Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump during [last/Wednesday] night's debate.
Hillary Clinton Donald Trump Clinton advantage
% % (pct. pts.)
Appeared presidential
Third debate 64 26 +38
Second debate 56 27 +29
First debate 59 27 +32
Had a good understanding of the issues
Third debate 63 26 +37
Second debate 59 28 +31
First debate 62 26 +36
Was more likable
Third debate 59 31 +28
Second debate 59 31 +28
First debate 55 36 +19
Was inspiring
Third debate 50 31 +19
Second debate 44 34 +10
First debate 46 34 +12
Among U.S. adults who watched or listened to each debate
Gallup; post-debate polls based on interviewing conducted Sept. 27-28, 2016, Oct. 10-11, 2016, and Oct. 20-21, 2016

The moderator of the third debate, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, stuck to the handful of policy-based issues he pre-announced he would focus on.

Clinton came out significantly ahead of Trump in viewers' ratings of their performance on most of these, holding a particularly strong edge in perceptions of who would best deal with international crises as president. Sixty percent chose her, compared with 35% naming Trump.

Clinton also led by roughly 15 points as the better candidate to deal with immigration, the Supreme Court, Social Security and Russia.

At the same time, Trump came within four points of Clinton in ratings of which would be better for the economy and the federal debt, indicating a potential vulnerability for Clinton in the closing days of the campaign.

Perceptions of Who Was Better on Issues at Third Debate
Now, based on what you heard or saw in the debate, which candidate -- [Hillary Clinton (or) Donald Trump] -- do you think would better handle each of the following issues if elected president?
Hillary Clinton Donald Trump Clinton advantage
% % (pct. pts.)
Dealing with international crises 60 35 +25
Immigration 56 41 +15
The Supreme Court 56 40 +16
Social Security 55 39 +16
Dealing with Russia 54 39 +15
The economy 50 46 +4
The federal debt 49 45 +4
Among U.S. adults who watched or listened to the third debate
Gallup; Oct. 20-21, 2016

Debate Viewers Ready to Accept Election Outcome

Reiterating his concerns about voter fraud and other ways the presidential election might be corrupted, Trump refused to guarantee that he would "absolutely accept the result of this election" when Wallace asked the Republican nominee if he agreed with his running mate's pledge.

However, 83% of Americans who watched or heard the third debate responded affirmatively to the same question, including 94% of Democrats, 80% of independents and 77% of Republicans. While 12% of Republicans said they would not accept the results, nearly as many (9%) said "it depends," possibly reflecting the Trump campaign's post-debate spin that a recount would be warranted if Trump were to lose by a narrow margin.

Willingness to Accept Election Outcome
No matter who wins in November, will you absolutely accept the result of this election, or not?
Yes, will No, will not Depends (vol.) No opinion
% % % %
All debate viewers 83 12 4 1
Democrats 94 6 0 <1
Independents 80 16 3 2
Republicans 77 12 9 2
Among U.S. adults who watched or listened to the third debate; "vol." = volunteered response
Gallup; Oct. 20-21, 2016

Bottom Line

Whatever the outcome of the presidential election, Clinton accomplished a trifecta in the debates, leading Trump by substantial margins in viewer perceptions of who won each contest. And, as evident in her gains on the personal qualities Gallup tracked across the debates, Clinton maintained or strengthened her image as an informed leader with the temperament to be president.

On the issues, Clinton earned a commanding lead in the third debate for being better prepared to handle international crises and led Trump on two of his signature themes -- dealing with Russia and immigration. The one area where she may be vulnerable is the economy, for which debate viewers were nearly as likely to say Trump would be the more effective of the two if elected president.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 20-21, 2016, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 682 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia who watched or listened to the Oct. 19 debate. For results based on the total sample of U.S. debate viewers, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Daily works.

Gallup


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