Now, as usual, I will remind you to take these polls with some grains of salt. They are limited to people who actually watched the debate rather than the broader electorate, and they don’t take into account the spin wars and media narratives that will help shape voters’ understanding of what happened.
But of course you crave the instant gratification of learning who “won” shortly after it happened rather than waiting for more rigorous data, so I’ll deliver it to you. The three instant polls we have so far both find that most debate watchers thought Joe Biden won.
CNN conducted its usual instant poll with SSRS, and they found that 53 percent of respondents who watched the debate thought Biden won, and 39 percent thought Trump won. (This poll and the others discussed in this article are different from those simple web polls in which anyone can vote — they’re methodologically sound, albeit somewhat hasty, polls.)
Results of the CNN instant poll of debate watchers: 53% say Biden won, 39% say Trump won. pic.twitter.com/AK4Fc99tez— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) October 23, 2020
That’s not quite as overwhelming a margin as Biden had in this poll after the first debate — the CNN/SSRS poll then showed 60 percent of watchers thought he won and just 28 percent thought Trump did — but he’ll take it. (CNN’s political director, David Chalian, also pointed out that their sample this time had slightly more Republicans than Democrats, which wasn’t true for the earlier poll.)
A second poll of people who watched Thursday’s debate, conducted by the progressive firm Data for Progress, found a similar result — 52 percent of respondents said they thought Biden won, and 41 percent said they thought Trump won.
Preliminary results from the @DataProgress snap debate poll: A majority of voters who watched the debate say Biden won (52% Biden, 41% Trump, 7% undecided) and moderates in particular think Biden won by a 2:1 margin— Charlotte Swasey (@charlotteeffect) October 23, 2020
Both of these results are fairly similar to Biden’s current lead over Trump in national polling averages — he leads by 9.9 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Finally, a third poll, from YouGov, found the biggest margin for Biden, with 54 percent of debate-watching respondents saying he won while 35 percent saying Trump did.
Overall, these results suggest that Trump’s performance did not do anything to shift the dynamics of the race, in which he is trailing, in his favor. As we may remember from 2016, the final debate doesn’t end the campaign — there is still time for dramatic news events to shake things up, or for voters to change their minds. But that time is ticking away.