Republican debate watchers see Ramaswamy as the worst performer for the second consecutive debate

The 538/Washington Post/Ipsos post-debate poll also finds that nearly three in four likely Republican primary voters skipped watching the debate

The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Johnny Sawyer Research Manager, US, Public Affairs
  • Sarah Feldman Senior Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
  • Bernard Mendez Data Journalist
Get in touch

Washington, DC, December 7, 2023 – A new 538/Washington Post/Ipsos poll conducted immediately following the fourth Republican primary debate finds that Republican primary voters who watched the debate feel that Ron DeSantis performed best, while Vivek Ramaswamy is seen as the worst performer for the second consecutive debate. However, less than one in three likely Republican primary voters report not watching any of the debate. While both DeSantis and Nikki Haley continue to separate themselves from the rest of the field, they both trail former president Donald Trump.

For 538's analysis, click here.

For the Washington Post's story, click here.

For data from the November debate: Republican debate watchers see Haley as the best performer, Ramaswamy as the worst

For data from the September debate: Republican debate watchers feel DeSantis did the best

For data from the August debate: DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Haley seen as top performers in first Republican debate

Fewer than one in three likely Republican primary voters watched the fourth debate

Detailed Findings:

1. Just 28% of Republican primary voters say they watched Wednesday’s debate.

  • Twelve percent say that they watched all of the debate, while 16% percent say they watched some of it.
  • Along these lines, nearly half (49%) report that did not watch any of the previous three debates. One in five watched one of the debates, while 16% each say they watched two or all three debates. 

2. Ron DeSantis was seen as the fourth debate’s best performer, while Vivek Ramaswamy was seen as the worst for the second consecutive debate.

  • Thirty percent of likely Republican primary voters who watched the debate believe DeSantis performed the best. Following DeSantis is Nikki Haley, with 23% saying she performed the best.
  • Less than one in five debate watchers believe Chris Christie (19%) and Vivek Ramaswamy were the top performers.
  • When asked who performed the worst, Vivek Ramaswamy (37%) was the most selected candidate, followed by Chris Christie (31%).
  • For Ramaswamy, this is the second consecutive debate in which he was seen as the worst performer (29% in the third debate). He performed particularly poorly among older debate watchers, two in five of those ages 50-64 (40%) and 65+ (43%) selected him as the worst performer.
Debate watchers say DeSantis performed best, Ramaswamy worst

3. DeSantis and Haley separated themselves from Christie and Ramaswamy in terms of debate performance.

  • Forty-six percent of likely Republican primary voters who watched the debate rate DeSantis’ performance as either excellent or very good, followed by Haley (45%). While their performances were seen as best among the field, they represent a decline from the third debate (-7% for DeSantis, -10% for Haley).
  • Of note, Haley performed much better among debate watchers ages 50-64 (46%) and 65+ (60%) than those ages 35-49 (34%).
  • One in three debate watchers rate Christie’s performance as excellent or very good (34%), while just thirty percent say the same of Ramaswamy.
  • Ramaswamy’s performance has declined across each of the four debates (55% excellent/very good in the first debate, 40% in the second debate, 33% in the third debate).

4. All candidates continue to trail Trump regarding who likely Republican primary voters are considering casting their ballot for in the primary.

  • Sixty-two percent of likely Republican primary voters have a favorable view of Trump. DeSantis (56%) and Haley (47%) are in the next tier of favorability. These figures are virtually unchanged from a month ago. 
  • Third tier candidates include Ramaswamy (32%), and Christie (25%). Less than one in ten Republican primary voters rate Asa Hutchinson favorably.
  • Sixty-three percent of Republican primary voters say they are considering voting for Trump. He is followed by DeSantis (47%) and Haley (41%). Similar to favorability rating, these figures are largely unchanged from November.
  • For the second consecutive debate, no other candidate besides Trump, DeSantis, or Haley has more than 20% of likely primary voters considering voting for them.

5. The debate moderators received positive overall reviews from debate watchers. However, some feel the debate did a poor job covering key topics.

  • Forty-two percent of debate watchers say the moderators had an excellent or very good performance, 46% say it was average, and just 10% feel the moderators did a poor or terrible job. The +32% net rating is the highest among the moderators in any of the four debates.
  • Despite a solid overall rating, most feel Republican primary debate did an average job or worse covering key topics, with the exception of immigration. The net rating varies by topic:
    • Dealing with immigration: 43% selected average; +21% net rating (Percent Excellent/Very good - Percent Poor/Terrible)
    • How to build the American economy: 49% selected average; +2% net rating
    • Wokeness or political correctness: 45% selected average; -4% net rating
    • Reducing crime and promoting public safety: 46% selected average; -15% net rating
    • Donald Trump’s indictments: 41% selected average; -21% net rating

About the Study

This 538/Washington Post/Ipsos post-debate poll was conducted December 6-7, 2023, by Ipsos using the probability-based KnowledgePanel®. The pre-debate wave of this poll was based on a nationally-representative probability sample of adults age 18 or older fielded November 28 to December 5, 2023, screened to those that indicated they are likely to vote in the upcoming Republican primary or caucus (N=5,175). This post-debate wave, which this topline reports, was administered to the same sample of respondents who took part in the pre-debate wave. Of those, 2,608 responded to the post-wave survey and 763 reported watching all or part of the debate.

The margin of sampling error among all those that responded to the post debate poll is 2.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The margin of sampling error among those who watched all or part of the debate is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. The margin of sampling error takes into account the design effect, which was 1.28 for all respondents and 1.25 for debate watchers. The margin of sampling error is higher and varies for results based on sub-samples. Sampling error is only one potential source of error. There may be other unmeasured non-sampling error in this or any poll. In our reporting of the findings, percentage points are rounded off to the nearest whole number. As a result, percentages in a given table column may total slightly higher or lower than 100%. In questions that permit multiple responses, columns may total substantially more than 100%, depending on the number of different responses offered by each respondent.

The post-debate survey weight factors are the same as those from the pre-debate. As such, the weighted total for post-debate respondents and debate watchers do not match their respective sample sizes.

The weights for the post-debate respondents were not adjusted to account for the nonresponding pre-debate sample.

The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, the largest and most well-established online probability-based panel that is representative of the adult U.S. population. Our recruitment process employs a scientifically developed addressed-based sampling methodology using the latest Delivery Sequence File of the USPS – a database with full coverage of all delivery points in the U.S. Households invited to join the panel are randomly selected from all available households in the U.S. Persons in the sampled households are invited to join and participate in the panel. Those selected who do not already have internet access are provided a tablet and internet connection at no cost to the panel member. Those who join the panel and who are selected to participate in a survey are sent a unique password-protected log-in used to complete surveys online. As a result of our recruitment and sampling methodologies, samples from KnowledgePanel cover all households regardless of their phone or internet status and findings can be reported with a margin of sampling error and projected to the general population. KnowledgePanel members receive a per survey incentive, usually the equivalent of $1 (though for some it is $2) in points, that can be redeemed for cash or prizes. No prenotification email for this study was sent prior to field. Panelists receive a unique login to the survey and are only able to complete it one time. Non-responders were sent reminders to increase participation.

The study was conducted in both English and Spanish. The full sample, pre screening, was weighted to adjust for gender by age, race/ethnicity, education, Census region, metropolitan status, household income, and party identification. The demographic benchmarks came from 2022 Current Population Survey (CPS) from the U.S. Census Bureau. Party ID benchmarks are from recent ABC News/Washington Post telephone polls.

 The weighting categories were as follows:

  • Gender (Male, Female) by Age (18–29, 30–44, 45–59, and 60+)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White Non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Other or 2+ Races Non-Hispanic, Hispanic)
  • Education (High School graduate or less, Some College, Bachelor and beyond)
  • Census Region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West)
  • Metropolitan status (Metro, non-Metro)
  • Household Income (Under $25,000, $25,000-$49,999, $50,000-$74,999, $75,000-$99,999, $100,000-$149,999, $150,000+)
  • Party ID (Democrat, Republican, Independent, Something else)

No respondents were removed from the final data for refusing all of the survey items.


Washington, DC, December 6, 2023 – A new 538/Washington Post/Ipsos poll conducted in the week leading up to the fourth Republican presidential debate finds that, among likely Republican primary or caucus voters, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley have separated from the rest of the field of candidates and solidified themselves as the biggest challengers to former president Donald Trump. However, both candidates continue to remain a distant second and third, respectively. Trump remains the frontrunner, with his numbers in a similar spot to the lead-up to the previous three debates, as two-thirds of voters have a favorable opinion of him and are considering voting for him.

The poll also finds that a majority of Republican voters believe that each state should have its own laws on abortion, rather than the federal government making laws for all states. Lastly, while a majority of voters do support abortion bans of both fifteen weeks and six weeks with exceptions, hardly any believe it should be illegal in all cases.

For 538's analysis, click here.

For data from the November debate: Republican debate watchers see Haley as the best performer, Ramaswamy as the worst

For data from the September debate: Republican debate watchers feel DeSantis did the best

For data from the August debate: DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Haley seen as top performers in first Republican debate

DeSantis, Haley remain distant second to Trump as three in five likely Republican primary voters plan to watch the fourth debate

Detailed Findings:

1. Former President Trump polls most favorably among Republican primary voters.

  • Sixty-five percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Trump; just 32% view him unfavorably.
  • Trump continues to poll more favorably among those with a high school diploma or less (78%) and those earning less than $50K a year (78%) than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher (48%) and those earning more than $100K (57%).
  • Hispanic voters (70%) also hold more favorable views than Black voters (57%).
  • Two-thirds of Republican primary voters are considering voting for Trump (66%). The same demographic trends hold true here, with non-college-educated, less affluent, and Hispanic voters being more likely to be considering voting for the former president.

2. Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley poll most favorably after Trump, but continue to remain a distant second.

  • Fifty-six percent of voters have a favorable opinion of DeSantis, compared to 28% that view him unfavorably and 15% that have no opinion or have never heard of him. Forty-seven percent are considering voting for him.
  • Forty-seven percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Haley, while just 22% view her unfavorably. However, despite her high net favorability, 31% have either no opinion or have not heard of her. Thirty-nine percent are considering voting for Haley; this is six points higher than it was before the third debate (33%).
  • Among the third tier of candidates, Vivek Ramaswamy (33%), Chris Christie (22%), Asa Hutchinson (11%), and Doug Burgum (10%) all have favorability ratings below 35%. Additionally, none of these candidates have more than 20% of voters considering voting for them in the primary.

3. While a minority of Republican primary voters believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, few believe it should be completely illegal.

  • Forty-three percent say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 56% say it should be illegal in all or most cases. Most voters fall in a gray area, as a combined three in four believe abortion should either be legal (32%) or illegal (44%) in most, but not all cases.
  • Of note, likely Republican primary voters that identify as independent are more likely than those that identify as Republican to say abortion should be legal in all or most cases (52% vs 37%).
  • Seventy-six percent of voters say that a candidate who believes abortion should be illegal in all cases would be viewed as extreme. Sixty-nine percent say the same of a candidate who thinks abortion should be legal in all cases, while less than two in five believe a candidate who falls somewhere in the middle would be viewed as extreme.
  • Two in three voters (67%) support a law that would ban abortion after fifteen weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is in danger. Fewer, but a majority nonetheless, support an abortion ban after six weeks with the same exceptions (56%).
  • When asked if abortion should be handled on a federal or state level, 57% of voters believe each state should make its own laws, while 42% want the federal government to make a law for all the states. White voters (58%) are more likely than Black (42%) and Hispanic (48%) voters to be in favor of each state making its own laws.

4. Three in five Republican primary voters plan to watch the upcoming debate on Wednesday.

  • Sixty-one percent plan to watch Wednesday’s debate. Those ages 18-34 (56%) are less likely to watch than those ages 50-64 (61%) and 65+ (63%).
  • Among those that plan to watch the debate, the primary reason is wanting to be informed about what’s going on in the race (60%). Just one in three plan to watch because they are trying to decide who to vote for (37%), while just 22% say they are planning to watch because they find the debates entertaining or interesting.
  • Among those that do not plan to watch the debate, a similar percentage say that they find debates boring or not interesting (32%) or that they can do their own research (30%). Around one in four report that they already know who they will vote for (23%).

About the Study

This 538/Washington Post/Ipsos poll was conducted November 28 to December 5, 2023, by Ipsos using the probability-based KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally-representative probability sample of adults age 18 or older. Questions presented in this document were only asked of those who are likely to vote in the Republican primary or caucus (N=5,175).

The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, the largest and most well-established online probability-based panel that is representative of the adult U.S. population. Our recruitment process employs a scientifically developed addressed-based sampling methodology using the latest Delivery Sequence File of the USPS – a database with full coverage of all delivery points in the U.S. Households invited to join the panel are randomly selected from all available households in the U.S. Persons in the sampled households are invited to join and participate in the panel. Those selected who do not already have internet access are provided a tablet and internet connection at no cost to the panel member. Those who join the panel and who are selected to participate in a survey are sent a unique password-protected log-in used to complete surveys online. As a result of our recruitment and sampling methodologies, samples from KnowledgePanel cover all households regardless of their phone or internet status and findings can be reported with a margin of sampling error and projected to the general population. KnowledgePanel members receive a per survey incentive, usually the equivalent of $1 (though for some it is $2) in points, that can be redeemed for cash or prizes. No prenotification email for this study was sent prior to field. Panelists receive a unique login to the survey and are only able to complete it one time. Non-responders were sent reminders to increase participation.

The study was conducted in both English and Spanish. The full sample, pre screening, was weighted to adjust for gender by age, race/ethnicity, education, Census region, metropolitan status, household income, and party identification. The demographic benchmarks came from 2022 Current Population Survey (CPS) from the U.S. Census Bureau. Party ID benchmarks are from recent ABC News/Washington Post telephone polls. The weighting categories were as follows:

  • Gender (Male, Female) by Age (18–29, 30–44, 45–59, and 60+)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White Non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Other or 2+ Races Non-Hispanic, Hispanic)
  • Education (High School graduate or less, Some College, Bachelor and beyond)
  • Census Region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West)
  • Metropolitan status (Metro, non-Metro)
  • Household Income (Under $25,000, $25,000-$49,999, $50,000-$74,999, $75,000-$99,999, $100,000-$149,999, $150,000+)
  • Party ID (Democrat, Republican, Independent, Something else)

Twenty-four respondents were removed from the final data for refusing all of the survey items.

The margin of sampling error among those likely to vote in the Republican primary or caucus is plus or minus 1.54 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The margin of sampling error takes into account the design effect, which was 1.29. The margin of sampling error is higher and varies for results based on sub-samples. Sampling error is only one potential source of error. There may be other unmeasured non-sampling error in this or any poll. In our reporting of the findings, percentage points are rounded off to the nearest whole number. As a result, percentages in a given table column may total slightly higher or lower than 100%. In questions that permit multiple responses, columns may total substantially more than 100%, depending on the number of different responses offered by each respondent.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Chris Jackson
Senior Vice President, US
Public Affairs
+1 202 420-2025
[email protected]

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The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Johnny Sawyer Research Manager, US, Public Affairs
  • Sarah Feldman Senior Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
  • Bernard Mendez Data Journalist

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