What did the post-debate polls really tell us?

By Dave Andrusko

First thing this morning, we offered some preliminary thoughts about last night’s first presidential debate.  As we approach the end of the day, I’d like to offer a few additional observations.

CNN/ORC’s poll, we are led to believe, was and is the last word. Of the 521 registered voters polled by phone, Hillary Clinton carried the day overwhelmingly, 62% to 27%.

Two things about this.

First, no matter how well, or poorly, you believe Donald Trump performed last night, does anyone honestly believe in a representative sample, Clinton would have received well more than twice as many votes as Trump? My guess is no.

Second, and related, there are a million ways a sample can be tilted. The easiest is to have a much larger number of voters identify with one party over another. CNN tells us [the underlines are mine]

26% of the respondents who participated in tonight’s survey identified themselves as Republicans, 41% identified themselves as Democrats, and 33% identified themselves as Independents.

Then there are all the other surveys.

If you believe the Washington Post’s grumpy Philip Bump, all the “snap polls” would have to improve to qualify as “garbage.”

These are Internet polls and they are less reliable than if you actually contact what is supposed to be (but wasn’t in the CNN poll) a representative sample.

It just so happens that Trump won most of those, to the great chagrin of the Post’s vehemently anti-Trump Bump. Let’s talk about just a few…

· According to TIME magazine, Trump won 55% to 45%.

· According to CBS News New York, Trump prevailed 60% to 40%.

· According to WCPO (Cincinnati), Trump outdistanced Clinton 60% to 35%.

· According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Trump carried the day, 64% to 37% for Clinton.

· By contrast, according to the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune poll, Clinton cruised, 64% to 30%

Back to the CNN poll. Even accepting the numbers (which I don’t), what difference did it make? According to Jennifer Agiesta, CNN Polling Director,

About half in the poll say the debate did not have an effect on their voting plans, 47% said it didn’t make a difference, but those who say they were moved by it tilted in Clinton’s direction, 34% said the debate made them more apt to vote for Clinton, 18% more likely to back Trump.

Again, remember the sample split among Democrats/Republicans/Independents. There were more Independents (by 7 points) than Republicans–33% to 26%. That simply is not remotely accurate of the electorate.

With respect to impact, one other fascinating piece of information that came via the Charlotte Observer.

Here’s the headline: “Presidential debate surprise: Clinton loses ground among some voters in swing state.”

David Lightman and Tim Funk write

In a focus group of 21 voters from around Charlotte conducted by McClatchy and The Charlotte Observer, four who had been up for grabs before the debate had moved away from her by the end.


For the four who emerged less impressed by Clinton, it was the seeming familiarity of her proposals for the economy and national security that was a turnoff.

Libertarian Gary Johnson was the beneficiary, not Trump. But the key is that those who moved wanted a “change”; they just weren’t happy with Trump as the change agent.

At least for now.