Going Into the Fifth Debate, Democrats Looking for a Candidate Who Can Beat Trump

Report from Ipsos/FiveThirtyEight Pre and Post-fifth Democratic Debate Poll

The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
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Washington, DC, November 21, 2019 - The 5th Democratic Debate wrapped up with much substantive policy discussion but no huge change in the shape of public opinion about the candidates and the race. Among Democratic likely voters who report watching the debate, the top-four candidates are also the most likely to be scored as having won the debate. When asked to select a single candidate who performed best, Pete Buttigieg receives the most mentions (22%) followed by Joe Biden (17%), Elizabeth Warren (13%), and Bernie Sanders (13%).

Among debate watchers, most give all of the candidates positive individual ratings with Warren (78% good) and Sanders (77% good) rated the most positively followed by Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, and Harris all receiving positive ratings by at least 60% of viewers. Tulsi Gabbard is the outlier with only 25% of viewers giving her a good evaluation for her debate.

Looking forward, the set of candidates that Democratic voters are considering does not vary significantly from before to after the debate. Joe Biden continues to have the widest pool of potential supporters (pre: 55% / post:56%) followed by Warren (pre 44% / post: 44%), Sanders (pre: 39% / post: 39%), and Buttigieg (pre: 26% / post: 32%).

Pre-Debate - In new polling from Ipsos and FiveThirtyEight in the lead-up to the fifth Democratic Debate Wednesday night, Democratic likely voters by a 2 to 1 margin say they are looking for a candidate who would be strong against Donald Trump rather than one who is a better ideological match. However, this does not clearly sort the three leading candidates each of whom is rated relatively highly by Democrats on their odds of beating President Trump.

Additionally, going into this debate, the three front-runner candidates of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren have favorability ratings above 60% and at least 40% of Democrats are considering voting for each of them. Buzzed about candidate Pete Buttigieg remains in a second-tier behind the top three with a favorability score of 47% (on par with Harris at 48% or Booker at 42%).

On the issues, Democrats are most interested in health care, the economy & jobs, wealth & income inequality, and climate change.

This research is the first part of a tracking study where Ipsos interviews a representative cohort of Democratic likely voters on the Ipsos KnowledgePanel before and after the debate to examine the impact of the event on public opinion. The second part will be published later in the week.


This pre-debate 538/Ipsos Poll was conducted November 14th to 18th, 2019 using Ipsos’ 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 Democratic primary or caucus (n=3,786).

This post-debate 538/Ipsos Poll was conducted November 20th to 21st, 2019 using Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel®. Wave 1 of this poll was based on a nationally-representative probability sample of adults age 18 or older. Wave 2, what this topline reports, was administered to those who indicated in Wave 1 that they are likely to vote in their state’s upcoming Democratic primary or caucus (n=2,077) and went into field immediately after the November Democratic Primary Debate ended.

The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, the largest and most well-established online probability-based panel that is representative of the adult US 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 US. Households are randomly sampled and all persons in the selected households are invited to join and participate in the panel. Ipsos provides selected households that do not already have internet access with 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 methods, 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.
The study was conducted in both English and Spanish. The data were weighted to adjust for gender by age, race, education, Census region, metropolitan status, and household income. The demographic benchmarks came from the 2019 March supplement of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS). 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 (Less than High School, High School graduate, 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+)

The margin of sampling error among those likely to vote in the Democratic primary or caucus is plus or minus 1.71 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The margin of sampling error takes into account the design effect, which was 1.15. The margin of sampling error is higher and varies for results based on sub-samples. 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.

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The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs