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Election 2016
Viewers Say Clinton Wins Second Debate
Election 2016

Viewers Say Clinton Wins Second Debate

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Clinton perceived winner of second debate, 53% to 35%, over Trump
  • Republicans much more positive about Trump in second debate
  • Majority of Americans would not be proud with either as president

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Following her solid victory in the first presidential debate two weeks ago, Democrat Hillary Clinton performed well in the second debate Sunday night, with 53% of those tuning in saying she did the better job, compared with 35% naming Republican Donald Trump. Winning the first two debates hasn't guaranteed presidential candidates success in their election. Still, two of the past three candidates who managed this feat -- Barack Obama in 2008 and Bill Clinton in 1996 -- went on to win.

Presidential Candidate Perceived as Performing Best in Debate
Among U.S. adults who watched or listened to each debate; shown is percentage-point lead over next-highest-rated opposing candidate
  First debate Second debate Third debate
2016 H. Clinton (+34) H. Clinton (+18) n/a
2012 Romney (+52) Obama (+13) Obama (+23)
2008 Obama (+12) Obama (+33) Obama (+26)
2004 Kerry (+32) Kerry (+15) Kerry (+14)
2000 Gore^ (+7) G.W. Bush^ (+13) Gore^ (+2)
1996 B. Clinton (+35) B. Clinton^ (+30) n/a
1992 Perot^ (+17) B. Clinton (+42) Perot^ (+9)
1988 Dukakis (+9) n/a n/a
1984 Mondale^ (+19) Reagan^ (+3) n/a
1976 Ford (+7) n/a n/a
1960 Kennedy (+21) n/a n/a
^Based on debate reaction poll conducted the same night with respondents interviewed in advance who planned to watch the debate and agreed to be called back

Clinton earned an 18-percentage-point lead over Trump in television viewer perceptions of who did a better job in Sunday night's town hall-style debate at Washington University in St. Louis. While impressive, the lead is down from her 34-point advantage in the first debate. Sixty-one percent of those watching or listening to the Sept. 26 debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, considered her the winner, versus 27% naming Trump.

The latest results are from Gallup polling conducted in the first two days after the second debate, Oct. 10-11, and before an article was published in The New York Times stating that two women claim to have been touched inappropriately by Trump.

The narrowing of Clinton's debate victory is reminiscent of 2004 when John Kerry followed a 32-point winning margin among watchers of the first debate against President George W. Bush with a 15-point victory in the second. By contrast, in 2008, Obama gained momentum between the first and second debates -- with his margin over John McCain swelling from 12 points to 33. Also, viewers gave President Bill Clinton a 30-point or better margin over Bob Dole for both debates in 1996.

Republicans Happier With Trump's Performance

Clinton's diminished debate advantage is mainly the result of Republicans giving Trump more credit in the second debate than they did in the first: 71% say he did a better job than Clinton in the second debate, compared with 53% who say the same about the first debate. Meanwhile, Democratic debate watchers were nearly unanimous in their choice of Clinton as the winner of both events.

Independents also thought Clinton did best in both debates, although the percentage naming her the winner fell from 59% to 51%, while the percentage of independents saying neither did a better job rose from 5% to 13%.

Regardless of which candidate you happen to support, who do you think did the better job in [last/Sunday or Monday] night's debate -- [Hillary Clinton (or) Donald Trump]?
Among U.S. adults who watched or listened to each debate
  Clinton Trump Neither (vol.)
  % % %
All debate watchers  
Second debate 53 35 8
First debate 61 27 5
Second debate 15 71 8
First debate 28 53 6
Second debate 51 32 13
First debate 59 30 5
Second debate 93 3 2
First debate 92 3 2
First debate based on poll conducted Sept. 27-28, 2016. Second debate based on poll conducted Oct. 10-11, 2016.

Women Rate Trump Better in Second Debate

The first segment of the St. Louis debate focused on criticism of Trump over his treatment of women, specifically referencing a recently released videotape from 2005 in which he bragged about making aggressive sexual advances toward women.

Despite this, women were more likely to say Trump did a better job in the second debate than the first debate, a significantly higher increase than among men. Almost a third of women (32%) who saw or listened to the St. Louis debate thought Trump did the better job, up from 21% after the first debate. That 11-point increase exceeds the five-point increase among men, from 33% choosing Trump for the New York debate to 38% choosing him for St. Louis.

Regardless of which candidate you happen to support, who do you think did the better job in [last/Sunday or Monday] night's debate -- [Hillary Clinton (or) Donald Trump]?
Among U.S. adults who watched or listened to each debate
  Clinton Trump Net Clinton
  % % %
Second debate 58 32 +26
First debate 69 21 +48
Second debate 49 38 +11
First debate 53 33 +20
First debate based on poll conducted Sept. 27-28, 2016. Second debate based on poll conducted Oct. 10-11, 2016.

Trump may have lost a little ground between the two debates in perceptions that he came across as a likable person. The percentage of watchers naming him as the more likable of the two candidates in the debates fell from 36% to 31%, while the percentage of those who name Clinton as most likable rose from 55% to 59%.

There was virtually no change, however, in how debate viewers compared the candidates on three other dimensions. Clinton maintains a large advantage over Trump for having a good understanding of the issues and appearing presidential, while she holds a slimmer lead for being inspiring.

Viewers' Perceptions of Qualities Exhibited at Each Debate
Thinking about the following characteristics and qualities, please say whether you think each one better described Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump during [last/Sunday or Monday] night's debate. Among U.S. adults who watched or listened to each debate.
  Clinton Trump Clinton advantage
  % % pct. pts.
Second debate  
Had a good understanding of the issues 59 28 +31
Appeared presidential 56 27 +29
Was more likable 59 31 +28
Was inspiring 44 34 +10
First debate  
Had a good understanding of the issues 62 26 +36
Appeared presidential 59 27 +32
Was more likable 55 36 +19
Was inspiring 46 34 +12
First debate based on poll conducted Sept. 27-28, 2016. Second debate based on poll conducted Oct. 10-11, 2016.

Clinton Seen as Qualified, But Neither Inspires Much Pride

Not only do debate watchers associate positive personal qualities more with Clinton than with Trump, but she is almost twice as likely as Trump to be seen as qualified to be president. Fifty-eight percent of debate watchers say this applies to her versus 36% to Trump. Clinton leads by an even larger margin -- 62% versus 32% -- in perceptions of having the character and temperament to occupy the Oval Office.

Trump comes a bit closer to Clinton in debate watchers' perceptions that each would be an effective president (50% for Clinton versus 39% for Trump). Neither is well-rated for being someone debate watchers would be proud to call president (46% for Clinton versus 32% for Trump).

Finally, Clinton also won Sunday night's debate on the positions she articulated. Debate watchers preferred her over Trump by an 18-point margin, 56% to 38%, as the candidate who shared better ideas during the debate for addressing the issues facing the country.

Bottom Line

Clinton didn't quite repeat her strong first debate performance when sharing the stage with Trump in St. Louis Sunday night, but she was still perceived as the winner by a majority of Americans who tuned in. Trump earned a higher share of Republican votes than he did the first time, helping him cut into Clinton's overall lead on this post-debate measure. Still, almost all Democrats and about half of independents considered Clinton the winner.

Should the third debate not go his way, the Republican candidate may hope his campaign follows the 2004 example in which Bush prevailed in the election in spite of losing all three debates, but there is a major difference between 2004's and this year's presidential campaigns. While Bush and Kerry both had respectable favorable ratings from the American people -- registering in the low 50s in October 2004 -- Trump and Clinton continue to garner historically low favorability ratings, with Trump's now markedly lower than Clinton's, 32% versus 40%, respectively. This liability for Trump is reflected in debate watchers' response to whether they would feel proud to have each candidate as president. The figure is relatively low for both, but the 32% for Trump is a major hurdle for him to overcome between now and Nov. 8.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 10-11, 2016, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of 693 national adults who watched or heard the debate, 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 survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Daily tracking works.

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