Beyond polls and pundits, how to measure who won the debate

Co-Authored by Maclen Zilber, Democratic Strategist and Campaign Consultant based in Hollywood, CA

Thank you to the political intelligentsia, the punditry class, and for the hot off the presses post debates polls and focus groups. We get it. Hillary Clinton trounced Donald Trump in last night's first debate.

Undoubtedly, after weeks of bad headlines and news about a narrowing of the race for U.S. President, Democrats have much to be gleeful about. It's clear she killed it.

But beyond the instantaneous take aways that launched a thousand hot takes last night, the real and tangible impact of the first debate can best be measured by its effect on what actually determines the outcome of the election-- voting.

Specially, we're talking about early voting. Numerous states already have early voting underway, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, New Jersey, Idaho, South Dakota, Wyoming and North Dakota.

Just days from now, Iowa and Illinois will begin their early voting process as well.

While the outcome in many of these solid red or blue states may already be pre-determined, for some of them, early voting patterns and turnout among a given Party, may present a clear picture of the on-the-ground ramifications of the first debate.

Specifically, there are three states to watch the early returns from to glean tea leaves from the debates: Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Real Clear Politics' latest polling average has Trump outpacing Clinton in the corn state by just under five points. So if early voting trends illustrate an uptick in Democratic votes cast, it'll underscore just how impactful Clinton's debate triumph really was and how it penetrated with a major swing state's electorate. If we don't see an uptick like that, it may portend something that many have suggested: that a big debate win doesn't necessarily translate to a shift in votes in such a polarized electorate.

Similarly, in Wisconsin and Minnesota, two decisive midwestern states, Real Clear Politics' average gives Clinton an edge on Trump by just under five points. A key component of Trump's path to 270 electoral college votes hasn't just been through winning Ohio and Florida, but also by picking up a slew of rustbelt states. While Trump doesn't need to win Wisconsin and Minnesota to reach 270 electoral votes, he does need to have a strong performance across the midwest, and early voting numbers in these states could correlate with how other midwestern states are reacting to the debate.

By the time of the next debate, we'll have a much larger group of swing states to observe early voting numbers in. Almost immediately after the October 9th face-off, early voting begins in battlegrounds like Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona.

Hot takes are nice, and polls are even better. But actual hard numbers on votes cast are a valuable resource that the press largely ignores as a barometer for these events. Let's start watching those numbers as they come in.