FINAL Presidential Debate
Overnight National Research Among 1125 Likely Voters
On October 22nd, 2020, the final presidential debate took place at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.
Mercury Analytics conducted an overnight survey including dial-tests of the final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden, which took place on October 22nd, 2020 at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.
The format for the final debate called for six 15-minute time segments dedicated to topics announced in advance in order to encourage deep discussion of the leading issues facing the country.
Kristen Welker, Co-Anchor of Weekend TODAY, and NBC News White House Correspondent, moderated the final 2020 presidential debate, and selected the following six topics for each segment: Fighting COVID-19, American Families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security and Leadership.
The debate started at 9:00 p.m. ET and ran for 90 minutes without commercial interruption.
Mercury’s study tested the candidates’ performance among a national sample of n=1125 likely voters. Respondents were first asked a series of demographic questions followed by questions to help understand respondents’ current views on politics in America, and specifically on President Trump and Democratic Presidential candidate, Joe Biden. Respondents were next shown one of six video clips from the debate featuring one of the 15-minute debate segments.
As participants watched the video, they moved a slider just below the video to the right the more strongly they agreed with what they were seeing and hearing, or to the left the more strongly they disagreed with the candidate. They also had the option to push a button that would identify a “GREAT MOMENT” or a moment when they felt “THAT’S NOT TRUE”.
Before the close of the survey, respondents were asked post-exposure questions to again assess their views on politics in the U.S., and to understand their views surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic response.
A Better Debate for America
The final presidential debate provided America with the ability to actually hear equally from both candidates, in contrast to the last debate in which Donald Trump relentlessly interrupted Joe Biden. As a result, the stark differences between the candidates was on display.
Joe Biden had a good night and was rated as having performed, on average, the best across the debate duration by 50% of Independent voters versus 33% that felt that Donald Trump had done better. A total of 89% of Democrats felt that Joe Biden had done better, with 5% of Democrats indicating that Donald Trump did better. Meanwhile, 77% of Republicans felt Donald Trump had done better, with 14% of Republicans indicating that Joe Biden performed better.
Joe Biden’s overall ratings among Democrats were 90%/4% positive/negative, 54%/19% positive/negative among Independents, and surprisingly ‘stronger than expected’ 36%/41% positive/negative among Republicans — almost split. Donald Trump received overall positive/negative ratings among Republicans of 87%/6%, among Independents of 43%/33%, and weak ratings among Democrats of 12%/72%. While Democrats passionately reject Donald Trump, Republicans prefer Donald Trump but do not have the same intense negativity for Joe Biden. Based on their ratings, a majority of Independents show preference for Joe Biden.
Joe Biden recorded the strongest ratings among Democrats in the sections related to National Security (92%), Climate Change (92%) and Race in America (91%), with negative ratings among Democrats never exceeding 7%. Among Independents, Joe Biden’s strongest ratings were provided in the sections related to Race in America (58%), American Families (52%) and Climate Change (51%), and in no section did he receive negative ratings greater than 30% or was the difference between positive and negative ratings less than +20% positive.
Donald Trump’s strongest ratings among Republicans were recorded in the sections related to Leadership (92%), National Security (88%), and American Families (86%), while in no section did his negative ratings exceed 10%. Among Independents, Donald Trump’s strongest sections were related to Leadership (62%), American Families (48%), and COVID-19 (42%). However, among Independents, when discussing Race in America and National Security, Donald Trump’s positive versus negative ratings were within 2% meaning Independents were split on these issues and his responses. On the issue of Climate Change, negatives outweighed positive ratings 27%/43%.
Donald Trump’s support has remained largely unchanged since the first presidential debate among Republicans (84% versus 85%) and Democrats (5% versus 6%), but has fallen among Independents (40% versus 35%).
Since the last presidential debate 3+ weeks ago, Joe Biden’s support has largely increased among Independents and previously undecided voters. While last night’s debate presented a much more ‘in-control’ Donald Trump, it is his positions on issues and aggressive style that are the key elements that turn off Independent and undecided voters. Joe Biden’s performance, while occasionally lacking energy and clarity, also contained moments of great strength, compassion, and substance — characteristics that connect Joe Biden to undecided voters.
There were no knock-out punches, no terrible gaffs, and there was no run-away winner. Joe Biden has the lead, but events over the next 12 days and turn-out will decide the election.
DEBATE Performance OVERALL rating
Q: Overall, how would you rate Donald Trump’s / Joe Biden’s performance in this video?
(Averages calculated across six segments)
How Americans View One Another
Q: As a supporter of Donald Trump / Joe Biden / an undecided voter, how do you feel about Joe Biden / Donald Trump / Donald Trump and Joe Biden supporters? Please select all of the phrases that represent your feelings today.
How Americans Feel After the Town Halls
Q: After watching the video segments, how do you feel? Please select all that apply.
SHIFT IN SUPPORT
Q: If the next Presidential election was held today, who would you most likely vote for?
(Asked pre- and post-exposure. Calculated on a per respondent basis per the below.)
Trump Positive: Biden Shift to Trump + Biden shift to Neutral + Neutral shift to Trump
Biden Positive: Trump Shift to Biden + Trump shift to Neutral + Neutral shift to Biden
Unchanged: Trump still + Biden still + Neutral still
* While shifts appear stronger for Donald Trump, based on the relative size of each segment, the overall average is approximate 4% for each candidate.
State of Politics in America
Q: Which of these statements best expresses your view of the state of politics in America? Which statement comes closest?
- The divisions that exist between Republicans and Democrats are bad for America. I want to see Democrats and Republicans working together again solving our problems.
- The divisions and fighting that exists between Democrats and Republicans is necessary to restore American greatness. Compromise between Democrats and Republicans has led to the problems we face.
- Neither statement is true for me at all.
Q: What did you hear or learn that has weakened your support for Joe Biden and/or increased your support for Donald Trump? Please be as specific as possible.
Donald Trump Positive
*Among respondents whose support for Trump increased after watching the video.
Before concluding the survey, respondents were asked a series of questions to assess how they feel about masks, social distancing, and President Trump’s overall handling of the pandemic.
Q: Overall, how would you rate President Trump’s response to the Covid-19 Pandemic?
Q: In the future, do you think that President Trump should more aggressively call for the wearing of masks by all Americans?
Q: In the future, do you think that President Trump should wear a mask more frequently and visibly?
Q: In the future, do you think that President Trump should more aggressively call for everyone to social distance?
Q: And finally, do you think that President Trump should continue to hold rallies in which many supporters do not wear masks or social distance?
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