Presidential debates are usually overhyped and under-impactful. And Thursday night’s second debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was no exception.
The President certainly behaved better in the second debate than he did in the first debate – and that probably calmed some jittery Republican nerves. And, Joe Biden performed competently, allaying fears among some of his supporters of a race-changing gaff.
But the major takeaway from the debate was that few, if any, minds were changed. Clearly, the debate showed how the race has hardened. If you have already voted for Biden or intend to vote for him, you thought he won the debate. Same for Trump, if you have already voted for him or intend to vote for him, you likely thought he won the debate.
In other words, what you thought about the candidates and the race before the debate is what you thought after watching it.
CNN did a snap poll after last night’s debate. Its sample included 32 percent Democrats and 31 percent Republicans, which is slightly more Republican than most surveys which show a 4- or 5-point Democratic advantage in party identification. But as the chart below shows the debate hardly changed favorability ratings of the candidates at all.
As to whom viewers thought won the debate, the CNN poll tracked where the race now stands in the head-to-head polling. Fifty three percent thought Biden won the debate. That’s almost identical to the 52.1 percent who said they support him in today’s FiveThirtyEight average of national polls. Thirty nine percent thought CNN that Trump one the debate, within margin of error distance of his 42.3 percent support in the FiveThirtyEight polling average. (See chart below)
The bottom line is this: Thursday night’s debate didn’t change many minds. Rather it showed that the race has hardened. Both Biden and Trump supporters appear dug in. That’s obviously good news for Biden who is comfortably ahead.
With 11 days left and tens of millions having already voted, it will take a cataclysmic event to change the trajectory of the race. Expect President Trump to do everything he can to create that cataclysmic event. So, hold on for a wild ride.
Al From is an adjunct professor at the Krieger School at Johns Hopkins University. He is founder of the Democratic Leadership Council and author of The New Democrats and the Return to Power, featured in the documentary film, Crashing the Party.