POLITICS

Elizabeth Warren Had Another Very Good Debate, Poll Finds

For the second time, voters who watched her came away with improved opinions, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren racked up a second well-received Democratic presidential debate performance last week, a set of new HuffPost/YouGov surveys finds.

Half of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters who saw at least clips of her during the debate said they came away with an improved view of Warren. Fewer than a third said the same about any of her opponents, including both the candidates she faced last Tuesday and those who debated the following night. Only 6% of the voters said their opinions of Warren worsened.

“She’s clear and concise in her answers, and she had answers for any questions posted to her,” wrote one Texas woman who watched the debate. “She showed she’s a fighter, and wants to fight more for the rights of the American people by taking ... power away from big business. Although I don’t totally agree with her and Bernie’s [‘Medicare for All’] plan, at this point I like what she’s saying and what she wants to do!”

The question is whether Sen. Elizabeth Warren's good debate reviews will help her in the Democratic primary horse race.
The question is whether Sen. Elizabeth Warren's good debate reviews will help her in the Democratic primary horse race.

(See full polling results for the first night here and those for the second night here.)

Warren’s net score for the debate ― the share of voters who said their view of her improved, minus the share who said their view worsened ― outstrips that of her nearest rival by 20 percentage points. But across the second set of debates, five other candidates also saw positive net scores in the double digits: South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro; businessman Andrew Yang; and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Here’s what some supporters found laudable about their performances:

Buttigieg: “He is best able to give consistently thoughtful and cogent answers. He always seems prepared and genuine.”

Booker: “He explained his positions well, focused on the issues, didn’t trash his fellow candidates, but also didn’t shy away from questions, and didn’t let the moderators back him into a corner or make him take ‘Republican talking points’ bait.”

Castro:He was able to present his ideas very well. He explained a couple of times things he did at HUD. He is very strong on immigration. I like his idea of helping Central America improve so people won’t feel it necessary to flee to America.”

Yang:He is more focused on lower and middle class america and how to get money back in the hands of these citizens instead. The others seem more interested in fighting and bickering and shaming Donald Trump.”

Sanders: “Beyond my agreement with his policies (and his success in relaying them), his effectiveness as a speaker has improved a lot since the 2016 election cycle, and he fielded questions head-on and in detail when other candidates seemed to use vagueness and platitudes to their advantage.”

Other high-profile candidates garnered less broadly enthusiastic reactions. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s performance was essentially a wash, with voters who watched about equally likely to say that it had worsened their opinion of him as that it had improved it. California Sen. Kamala Harris, a breakout star of the first set of debates, this time saw her negatives slightly outweigh her positives.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who pushed back against the party’s progressives during the first night of the second debates, were among those who received the weakest ratings. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has often polled near the bottom of the field on favorability, also saw relatively poor numbers. And despite a flurry of punditry around wellness guru Marianne Williamson’s performance, actual voters were notably less avid.

What this polling doesn’t indicate is whether Warren’s debate performance will actively strengthen her standing in the Democratic primary, either immediately or in the longer term. The standard provisos about debate polling we outlined following the first debate remain relevant here: Voters’ preexisting opinions of the candidates help to shape their reactions; opinions remain fluid; and, of course, impressing voters in a debate doesn’t necessarily translate into gaining even temporary ground in the horse race. 

Those caveats were exemplified by the arc of the horse race polling following the first debates, when Harris saw an immediate bounce and Biden, her prime target, sagged. Both trends subsided within weeks, leaving Biden as far ahead of the pack as he’d started this summer and Harris polling only a few points ahead of where she’d stood previously. (Warren’s rise to her current standing in the polls ― she’s generally in the teens, nationally ― seems to have in large part predated her well-regarded first debate performance.)

Biden’s lead in perceived electability, which had narrowed, has also partially recovered, according to the HuffPost/YouGov poll taken following the second set of debates. Some 65% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters said they think he can beat Trump in the general election, up from 57% following the first set of debates. Other candidates’ ratings have seen less change in that time. About half of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters currently believe Warren and Harris can win, with 44% saying the same of Sanders, 29% of Buttigieg, 23% of Booker and 20% of Castro. No other candidates reach the 20% mark.

There’s still plenty of primary campaigning left to happen, including a third round of debates in September for those candidates who qualify through fundraising and polls. Although voters are increasingly beginning to make up their minds, the real front-runner of the Democratic primary is still probably “undecided.” Only about half of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters now say they have even a “good idea” of whom they’ll vote for, although that’s up from 38% after the first debates in June. 

The HuffPost/YouGov polls, each consisting of 1,000 completed interviews, were conducted Aug. 1-2 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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