Acrimonious presidential debate leaves race largely unchanged

FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos post debate survey finds Biden marginally stronger

The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Catherine Morris Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
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Washington, DC, September 30, 2020

1. On the morning after the first presidential debate, new FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos polling finds that Joe Biden significantly outperformed President Trump in Americans’ estimation. Americans still give both candidates essentially equal chances of winning the election, but faith in the outcome of the election looks to be in question for at least one-third of the population.

  • Six in ten Americans agree that Biden’s debate performance was “somewhat” or “very good.” Just one third say the same of Trump. 
  • Views on this measure fall along partisan lines – 87% of Democrats view Biden’s performance favorably and 68% of Republicans view Trump’s performance favorably.
  • A majority of Americans (56%) favor the policy ideas Biden outlined during the debate, deeming them “good”; while an equivalent number (57%) view the policy ideas Trump proposed as “poor.”

2. A majority of Americans believe that the election will be both fair and credible. However, just over one in three (34%) show signs of questioning the results already. One quarter say that whether they believe the results depends on who wins, and nearly one in 10 say that they will not believe the results at all.

  • Democrats have greater faith in the results, with seven in ten agreeing that they will believe the outcome, compared to just six in ten (59%) of Republicans.
  • Republicans and Democrats are closer together on believing the results, depending on who wins, at 30% and 25% respectively.
  • Republicans are more likely to say that they will not believe the results at all (10%), compared to Democrats (4%).
  • Further, 60% believe that the election will be fair, while 39% say that it will not be fair.

3. Looking ahead, a greater number of Americans say that they plan to vote for Biden in November, but they give the two candidates almost the same odds of winning. There is no movement in voter intent for either candidate after the debate.

  • Americans say they have a 3.7 in 10 chance of voting for Trump, and a 5.17 out 10 chance of voting for Biden, consistent with where they stood before the debate.
  • Despite seeing Biden’s debate performance more favorably, Americans still view the race as a toss-up, putting Trump’s chances of winning at 4.68 out of 10 and Biden’s at 4.77 out of 10. 

4. Favorability ratings for the two candidates are consistent with where they stood before the debate.

  • Biden’s favorability ratings tilted slightly more positive, shifting from 49% pre-debate to 52% post-debate among all Americans. His favorability ratings remain net-positive.
  • Trump’s favorability ratings remain essentially unchanged, moving from 37% pre-debate to 36% post-debate. 

For additional analysis, visit FiveThirtyEight.

Washington, DC, September 29, 2020

On the eve of the first presidential debate, new FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos polling finds an engaged electorate with few remaining uncommitted voters. However, Joe Biden appears to have more to prove with softer support and opposition than President Trump.

1. Over eight in ten Americans say they are absolutely certain to vote for or against either Trump or Biden, with only 13% and 16% respectively registering something other than certainty in their position.

2. Joe Biden has stronger favorability ratings (49%) compared to President Trump (37%). However, opinions about Biden are softer with over a third registering that they are ‘somewhat’ favorable (22%) or unfavorable (12%).

3. Americans feel that the coronavirus outbreak (32%) and the economy (22%) are the most important issues facing the country today.

  • Among people who think the coronavirus outbreak is the main issue, they prefer Biden to Trump by an almost 3 to 1 margin.
  • Among people who think the economy is the main issue, they prefer Trump to Biden by a 2 to 1 margin.

4. Over a quarter of Americans (29%) report that ‘whether I believe the results [of the election] depends on who wins’ with just over half (59%) saying they will believe the results with no qualifier.

  • Almost half (45%) of Americans do not believe the election will be fair.

After the debate, we will have our follow-up survey investigating potential impacts on these voters.

About the Study

Wave 1 of this FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos September 29th Debate poll was conducted September 21st to September 28th, 2020 and Wave 2 was conducted September 29th to September 30th, 2020 by Ipsos using our KnowledgePanel®. Wave 1 of this poll was based on a nationally-representative probability sample of 3,133 adults age 18 or older. Wave 2 was administered to those who completed the Wave 1 poll. A total of 1,827 adults participated in the Wave 2 poll.

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 from all available households in the U.S. All persons in selected households are invited to join and participate in KnowledgePanel. Ipsos provides selected households that do not already have internet access a tablet and internet connection at no cost to them. 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/ethnicity, education, Census region, metropolitan status, household income, and party identification. The demographic benchmarks came from the 2019 March supplement of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS). 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)

The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1.9 percentage points for Wave 1 and plus or minus 2.7 percentage points for Wave 2 at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults. The margin of sampling error takes into account the design effect, which was 1.23 for Wave 1 and 1.35 for Wave 2. 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.

About Ipsos

Ipsos is the world’s third largest market research company, present in 90 markets and employing more than 18,000 people.

Our passionately curious research professionals, analysts and scientists have built unique multi-specialist capabilities that provide true understanding and powerful insights into the actions, opinions and motivations of citizens, consumers, patients, customers or employees. We serve more than 5000 clients across the world with 75 business solutions.

Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos is listed on the Euronext Paris since July 1st, 1999. The company is part of the SBF 120 and the Mid-60 index and is eligible for the Deferred Settlement Service (SRD).

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The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Catherine Morris Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs