Last Monday night, more Americans than ever before tuned in to watch the first presidential debate, and we at Civis did too. And while we were as interested in the back-and-forth between Clinton and Trump as anyone, we were most excited to see voters’ reactions in the following days. That’s when we turned to our social science team to field a survey so we could find out. As the survey responses rolled in, it became clear that voters believe Clinton trounced Trump, describing Clinton as ‘prepared’ and Trump as ‘rude’.
Voters see Clinton as ‘Professional’ and Trump as ‘Unprepared’
Three fourths of respondents in our National Opinion Tracking, web and phone surveys said they watched the debate. Of those who watched, Clinton was described as prepared, professional, and calm, while Donald Trump was described as unprepared, rude, and a bully.
However, it is no surprise that Democrats viewed Clinton’s performance as presidential; Republicans, likewise, fell into party lines for the most part, describing Trump as strong (though even some said Trump was ‘unprepared’!). Among voters who don’t identify with either party, Trump does not fare much better: every single one of the ten words most associated with Trump are negative.
We were able to determine which words were most unique to each candidate scientifically by using a suite of tools built out by our Data Science Research and Development team to analyze survey responses. One such natural language model allows us to cut through the noise we typically see in word clouds to determine whether respondents are using different language to describe each candidate; when they are, our modeling identifies the specific words that are used to describe one candidate’s performance and not the other’s.
Voters think Clinton routed Trump in their first match-up
Of the 73% of respondents who said they watched the debate, voters who have yet to make up their minds were the least likely to report watching.
As other polling directly after the debate showed, a majority – 61% – of voters who watched believe Hillary Clinton won the debate. Only 21% believe Donald Trump won and 18% think neither won. In fact, only half of Trump supporters think their candidate won and even one in five was willing to concede that Clinton routed Trump! Moreover, almost everyone who believes Trump won already supports him: fewer than one in ten undecided voters believe Trump won, versus half who said the same about Clinton. Clearly, voters think Clinton routed Trump in their first match-up.
What effect this debate will have on the polls, and eventually on the election, remains to be seen– we will be watching closely. In the meantime, Civis is going to continue developing new tools like the natural language processing ones featured here to cut through the noise and deliver insights to our clients.
Methodological Note: Civis Analytics conducted 1,223 live telephone interviews between September 27, 2016 and October 1, 2016 and 1,132 online interviews on September 27, 2016 of adults in the United States. Respondents were sampled from nationally representative voter and consumer files. Results were weighted to the 2016 electorate.
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