Who Won The Third Democratic Debate? | FiveThirtyEight

If you are not a regular reader of FiveThirtyEight’s politics section (or sports section for that matter), then you should be. It will help you understand the polls and other data about politics (and sports). You’ll be able to sound better informed at parties and rallies and, we all know, chicks dig a know-it-all mansplaining guy.

Anywho, file this under the best laid plans of mice-and-men because I am only a part-time blogger but a full time citizen, which means sometimes real life (that’s RL to all the kids reading) intrudes and disrupts my blogging plans of world domination. I had planned on live blogging the debates but illness, work, and time zones got in the way of that. I live in China, so the debates were at a very reasonable 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM for me, but work. But, it was a holiday — something about hanging lanterns at the beginning of fall — so I was off work, but sick and slept in until 9:00 and missed the beginning. I soldiered on, but couldn’t get it up. Just too damn tired. Anywho, now I’m starting up assessments — I teach high school — and am strapped for time. So, mea culpa over, this reblog will have to suffice for my commentary on the third Democratic Debate.

I found the polling that FiveThirtyEight and Ipsos did both immediately before and after the debates, fascinating. If you’re wonky like me, go to the Ipsos pdf reports on their surveys.

They are impressive with sample of just over 4,000 likely voters in the Democratic primary for the pre-debate survey and just over 2,000 for the post-debate survey. It is about as good a sample as you’re likely to get, but as the good folks at FiveThirtyEight advise, look at the polling averages to figure out the state of the race and be ready for surprises.

For those of you who are real wonky, you already rely on RealClear Politics polling average instead of riding the roller coaster of each newly released poll. If not, that’s something you gotta do.

I’ll give you might highlights of their findings and then you can go visit the article your own self and see what you think. Hopefully, you’ll put something in the comments — I know, I’m eternally optimistic. I tell ya, blogging is a lonely business. I’ll get a hundred views of this article, one comment — Thanks Robert! — three likes — Thanks Robert, Pretty Patty Pirate, and Suze — and that’s about it. Oh well, such is life. Good thing I like the sound of my own writing and really need to procrastinate on all that marking.

Changes in Support

Have a gander at the Who Gained (and lost) Support chart that FiveThirtyEight put together based on their Ipsos polling. It clearly shows that the two big gainers from the debate (this is pre and post-debate polling) were Warren (+3.6%) and Buttigieg (+2.4%). The biggest loser was Harris with -2.2%. All other shifts in support were statistically negligible.

Who Won the Third Debate? from FiveThirtyEight

Standings in Race

From this chart, it is pretty clear that the race shakes out about like everyone has been saying:

  1. Biden is sitting in first place. He’s going to be hard to dislodge since the American electorate leans conservative and we each subsequent poll and vote will tend to regress to the mean. It’ll be Biden unless he implodes along the way. Luckily, he tends to. Hopefully, he will before the nomination and the general election.
  2. Warren and Sanders are clearly the second place tier. While they aren’t exactly scrapping over the same voters — Warren is upscale college educated and Sanders is blue collar non-college educated — it is close. They are splitting the progressive vote. If you combine their vote, it beats or ties Biden. But, if one dropped out, would the other pick up their voters or would they shift to another candidate?
  3. Harris and Buttigieg are the third place tier. Based on this poll — and remember use the average over individual polls lest you fall victim to confirmation bias and motivated reasoning — they are tied. They’re only hope is that one of the top three flames out, and they can step into their place.
  4. O’Rourke and Booker share fourth — is there really a point of dipping this low? I find it strange that O’Rourke is not a stronger candidate given his notoriety from the 2018, fundraising, and press time from the shootings in El Paso and Odessa. He’s gotten no bounce. He squander his popularity from the 2018 by delaying his announcement.
  5. Yang floats in the ether in his own weird state. Who knows where his voters go to after he drops out sometime after the early voting begins other than the couch?
  6. Klobuchar and Castro are neck-and-neck in the next to drop out of the race. I’m afraid Castro may have shot himself in the dick and guaranteed he’s next to drop out. The only real question is has he muddled his VP possibilities?

Gettin’ Petty About Harris

I have a pet theory about Harris. I like her as a candidate. On paper, she should be the whole package, but she just isn’t getting any traction — as the talking heads like to say. My pet theory is that she has a nasally twang and a fake-seeming laugh. I’ve watched her carefully thus far in the primary, and her voice grates on my nerves and I don’t believe her laugh and smile. In the ABC spin room, she crossed paths with Amy Klobuchar and stomped her feet and squealed AMY! before giving her a hug. My cynical curmudgeonly heart just thought, Putting it on for the cameras, as the ABC talking heads waxed insightful about the friendship and support between all the female senators in the race. Maybe this is the reaction others are having, maybe not.

Favorability and Unfavorability

Going hand-in-hand with the who gained and lost supporters from the debate, is how the debate affected each candidates favorability ratings. Let’s look through them by who is unchanged and who changed. The good news is, no one’s favorability rating went down; however, some folks unfavorability went up!

Biden, Sanders, and Castro’s favorability stayed the same. About the only positives for Castro are that he didn’t really lose any supporters and didn’t hurt his favorability.

Everyone else’s favorability improved and some substantially. Unsurprisingly, Warren’s favorability took a big jump (6.6%), but surprisingly, not the most! I’ll list the order of change after the chart.

Unfavorability ratings took some surprising turns, too. Perhaps, not unsurprising, Castro’s unfavorability took the biggest hit increasing a whopping 8.9%, but also, Yang, 4.8%, and Klobuchar, 2.5%. Everyone else increased by less than 2.0%, except for Warren. She was the only one to drop, but it was an insignificant, -0.9%.

Who Won the Third Democratic Debate? from FiveThirtyEight

In order of the biggest increase:

  • Klobuchar, 8.3% to 33.5%
  • O’Rourke, 7.6% to 50.8%
  • Yang, 7.4% to 35.8%
  • Booker, 7.2% to 49.9%
  • Buttigieg, 7.1% to 51.0%
  • Warren, 6.6% to 70.4%
  • Harris, 5.0% to 56.8%
  • Castro, 2.1% to 34.3%

Changes in Favorability Rating

But, there is so much going on with favorability versus unfavorability that it is easy to get lost in the weeds. One of the things to look at here is who is the most underwater and above water (is that even a thing?). I’ll call that the favorability rating (the difference between the favorability and unfavorability scores). We’ll start with the post-debate favorability ratings going from highest to lowest and compare that to the candidates pre-debate ratings and calculate the amount of change between the two favorability ratings.


Several things jump out at us when we look at the chart. In no particular order:

  • Julian Castro shot himself in the dick, but good! He’s the only one (besides Sander’s negligible drop of one point) whose favorability rating decreased post-debate declining by 7 points, which is almost as much as the biggest gainers gained (+8). When you’re the last guy to make the stage, you gotta role the dice to make up some ground. Unfortunately, this gamble didn’t seem to pay off.
  • Elizabeth Warren blew some more wind up her own skirt — I’m sure that’s illegal in the Bible belt. Not only did she come out post-debate with the highest favorability rating (70%, tied with Biden), the highest favorability rating (+56), and the biggest change in the favorability rating (+8, tied with O’Rourke). The only conclusion is that the more the voters hear from her, the better they like her. That’s got to be worrisome to bother Biden and Sanders who continue to stagnate or lose ground.
  • O’Rourke did himself a solid. He improved his favorability and decreased his unfavorability. He improved his favorability rating by 8 points tying with Warren for most improved. We’re all winners here! Except for Sanders and Castro.
  • Biden’s increase of favorability by one point is offset by his increase in unfavorability of one point giving him no change in his favorability rating.
  • Warren’s unfavorability was among the lowest going into the debate and is the lowest coming out of the debate.
  • The top five are the top five! They have the top favorability scores and the top favorability ratings. Booker and O’Rourke are just behind Buttigieg in both.

Quality of Support

While favorability doesn’t tell us who has the most support, it tells us something about the quality of their support. With a high favorability and high favorability rating suggesting that their support are solid and that they are attractive to supporters who are willing to change candidates as the race matures. If interpreted this way, Warren is looking pretty darn good: her position keeps improving while her two main rivals are stagnate. It also means that the bottom seven’s support is pretty squishy and capricious and could easily shift to other candidates.

Top Issues In the Race

The other finding that jumped out at me was the top issue in the race and what that did to candidate support. While it isn’t surprising that the top issue is beating Trump (41% choosing it), it is surprising that the only other issue with double digit support is healthcare (10% choosing it). I’m surprised that climate change, gun policy, immigration, and the Supreme Court don’t rate higher!

It’s the Courts, Stupid!

It is depressing that Dems haven’t figured out that presidential elections are more about the standing of the court than anything else since judicial appointments are lifetime appointments. We didn’t learn one of the most important lessons from the Great Civics Lesson of 2016 — judicial appointments matter. We’re stuck with a minimum of a 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court for the next generation. That could easily slip to 6-3 if RBG passes before the election. And, if she does, who wants to bet that Clarence “Just Give All the Money to Jenny” Thomas retires, too?

Who Won the Third Democratic Debate? from FiveThirtyEight

Of small comfort to Warren and Sanders are that inequality garner 8% of the responses. And, to all of the candidates that the economy gets 9%. Of course, if the economy continues to worsen, then the election is almost an automatic win for whoever the nominee is.

Who Can Beat Trump?

Because beating the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is the overwhelmingly biggest issue among likely Dem voters across the country, understanding how perceptions of who could beat Trump becomes important. This next chart compares those pre and pos-debate perceptions.

Again, Warren seems to be the big winner here. Among those with a 50+% rating of being able to beat the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, she gained the most (+2.5%) while both Biden and Sanders lost negligible amounts (-0.8% and -0.2%, respectively). Other candidates gained, and Klobuchar gained more with +2.6% than Warren; although, the difference is not important.

Who Won the Third Democratic Debate? from FiveThirtyEight

While Biden’s debate performances continue to improve and he remains the solid favorite in all of the national polls, it has to be concerning that he continues to slip in the polls as the electorate sees him debate — he’s been very shaky at times — and watches other candidates debate. Warren, Buttigieg, Booker, and O’Rourke all had solid performances.

While Castro’s attack on him for having forgotten what he said two minutes ago, may have hurt Castro since it seemed unfair to be picking on a frail and feeble old man like Biden, it probably hurt Biden, too. As we all know, untruthful and unfair attacks often do damage since they become part of the material associated with the candidate. What will people remember of the incident? That Biden was unfairly attacked or that he couldn’t remember what he said two minutes ago? My money is on he couldn’t remember.

After three debates, does anyone think that Handsome Joe will be able to take the fight to the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s push his opponent’s negatives up above his approach to the campaign? Seriously? He gets flustered when he’s attacked. He reminds the moderators that his time is up rather than get in there and keep swinging. I don’t have confidence in Biden.

Warren has looked frighteningly well prepared and competent in the debates. She’s yet to have been attacked, and I bet that changes in the fourth debate as she continues to improve in the polls and all other metrics. Given what I’ve seen of her aggressively questioning witnesses before the committees she’s been sitting on, I bet she holds her own and will give as good as she gets.

The race is shaping up to be between the centrist and progressive candidates. Who will pick up the supporters of the 10 or so also rans? As the field continues to winnow, who will Castro’s and Klobuchar’s meager supporters go to? None of those candidates have a lot of supporters, but it will tell us something if we could determine who they are shifting to.

Here’s the FiveThirtyEight article. Read it. Follow the links to the Ipsos material and come back and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

Who Won The Third Democratic Debate?

How Democratic voters feel about the presidential candidates before and after the third primary debate of the 2020 election cycle

Aaron Bycoffe, Sarah Frostenson, and Julia Wolfe Friday 13 September

If something is going to shake up the race before the Iowa caucuses, it’s likely to be a debate. So we’re partnering with Ipsos to once again track how Thursday’s debate, hosted by ABC News, affects likely primary voters’ feelings about the candidates. The FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, is interviewing the same group of voters twice to capture both the “before” and “after” picture of the debate.

Continue reading at FiveThirtyEight: Who Won The Third Democratic Debate? | FiveThirtyEight

4 replies »

  1. Speaking of the Supreme Court, there is one case that we can expect to be on their docket this next term which could make a critical difference in the Democratic Primary race. That case is the one about the ACA. While I suspect that Chief Justice Roberts (not necessarily to be confused with The Dread Pirate Roberts) would prefer to put that off until after the election, or failing that, argue for a very narrow decision, if only to avoid the accusation of the court meddling in politics (which is pretty obvious after Bush v Gore and Citizens United). If the ACA is completely overturned, Biden’s position of “building on Obamacare” goes out the window and Medicare For All starts looking very good to a lot of people. Whatever happens on that, the Dems really do have to get clear how much the judiciary matters AND develop the kind of grooming and training system the Repubs and Libertarians have to develop a stable of young, progressive lawyers as future nominees at all levels.

    Another truth that Democratic primary voters need to keep in mind is that no President (not even Trump) gets to have even a friendly Congress enact everything they promise or want to do. The Sausage Factory is real. Forgetting that is part of why so many end up disappointed in their Presidents, and, as the reign of “W” so well demonstrated, unforeseen events can and do change the direction of administrations.

    As for the candidates, I just asked myself, “Who comes across as most real and most competent and most civil and most likable?. My answer is Warren. That is why she is rising.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!
      I hadn’t thought of the possibility that the Supremes would overturn the ACA. I had always thought that Roberts would preserve it as he did the last time it made it to his court. It is possible. Of course should there be another replacement of a judge, then all bets are off.

      While we’re on the Supremes, Kavanaugh seems to have stirred the hornets nest again. If the Dems take the WH and Senate, they’ll go for impeaching him… I hope. The man is a menace. I re-read my posts on him from last year. He really does display life persistent anti-social behavior. He perjured himself repeatedly, the sadistic psychopath.

      I read a headline — some days there is no time to read anything more — that Sotomayor was warning that the Supremes were doing favors for Trump. I think that was in Vox. No, I did read it. It was her dissent in their order to overturn a lower court stay on Trump’s asylum ban as it goes through appeals. She was saying that the interventions should only be done under extraordinary circumstances, but the Supremes were doing them upon demand by the Trump administration. The idea that Trump and GOP have corrupted the Supreme Court as well as appointed such miscreant judiciary is truly frightening.

      The funny thing is, we’ve been hearing the warnings — I’ve been making them, but more important and widely heard voices than mine have been, too — since Reagan. Now and again, it comes up in presidential elections, but since Supreme Court appointments aren’t very sexy unless you’re talking about Notorious RBG, no one pays them much attention. No one in the Dem coalition. Perhaps that dilution of issues is part of being in a big tent coalition.

      Trump’s only saving grace is his ineptness. He can’t actually get anything done. Thank god, too, otherwise we’d be at war with Iran by now. If he were removed from office and Pence were president, it would be a different story. Pence can get things done and terrible things, too. We’d be living in Indiana on steroids. I never thought that our system would be so thoroughly and easily corrupted. The tentacles of the Russians have reached deep into our government and souls of our politicians.

      I love nothing more than an afternoon wonking out with data and polls and policy and psychology. Warren really does come off as competent and confident. She has the details down. If elections are revisions of the previous election, Warren has executive function in spades to correct Trump’s extreme executive dysfunction. It’s where I can’t see the appeal of Biden. In many ways he is a nice Trump. There is no doubt in my mind that his heart is in the right place, but he doesn’t have strong executive functions, and he likes being the guy in the office more than he likes actually doing the job of the office. It made him a good senator. It will make him a lousy president. It will be a much less corrupt Warren G. Harding, I’m afraid. Whereas, Warren will be a more capable Carter.


      Liked by 1 person

      • As for the issue of the judiciary, the GOP clearly stole a march on the Dems for 40+ years (key words: Heritage Foundation). The path to recovering from the legacy now in place is unclear, but certainly long.

        I agree that the best argument against impeachment of Trump is Pence. He is a ticket to Gilead as in The Handmaid’s Tale.

        An interesting note on Warren in an NPR report on her speech yesterday in NYC, was (besides her utterly clear understanding of corruption and what to do about it) was that she stays after until everybody who wants a Selfie with her gets it. Three hours after the speech, the Selfie line still went right around the park. That is a real understanding of campaigning in the social media age.

        Liked by 1 person

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