A new Fox News national poll suggests Donald Trump suffered real damage in his first debate with Hillary Clinton — not just losing the debate, but sliding in some key measures of voter confidence in his ability to serve as president.
Compared to the same poll’s results before the debate, Clinton’s standing improved relative to Trump’s in three important areas: which candidate would best handle the economy, which candidate has the temperament to serve as president and which candidate is honest and trustworthy.
First, the overall numbers. In the poll, conducted last Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 58 percent of likely voters said Clinton won the debate, versus just 19 percent who said Trump won, 11 percent who said it was a tie, and 12 percent who said they didn’t know. That’s three times as many voters who thought Clinton won as thought Trump won.
Democrats, by a 91 percent to 4 percent margin, thought Clinton was the victor. Republicans, by a 35 percent to 26 percent margin, thought Trump won. (Nineteen percent of Republicans thought it was a tie.) Among independents, Clinton won by a 46-22 margin.
So voters think Clinton won, which is the same result as other polls in recent days. But the larger question is what effect, if any, the debate had on the overall course of the race.
In the horse race, Fox found Clinton leading Trump among likely voters 43 percent to 40 percent in a four-way contest, with Gary Johnson at eight percent and Jill Stein at four percent. In the last Fox poll, taken September 11-14, Clinton led Trump by 41 percent to 40 percent in the four-day race, with Johnson at eight percent and Stein and three percent.
The Fox pollsters found more change in the head-to-head race among likely voters, with Clinton now leading Trump 49 percent to 44 percent. In the pre-debate Fox poll, Trump led Clinton 46 percent to 45 percent — so that’s a six-point net change before and after the debate.
So there has been an insignificant change in the four-way race and a significant change in the two-way. It’s not clear which is more meaningful.
But other numbers are clearly ominous for Trump.
Before the debate, Trump had a 51 percent to 44 percent lead when Fox asked likely voters who would best handle the economy. After the debate, Trump’s lead was down to 49 percent to 47 percent — a seven-point lead cut to a two-point lead.
Before the debate, Fox found 59 percent of likely voters said Clinton had the temperament to serve as president; after the debate, the number went to 67 percent. Trump’s temperament number stayed nearly the same, 38 percent before the debate to 37 percent after. Clinton’s 21-point pre-debate lead on the question became a 30-point post-debate lead.
Before the debate, 39 percent of Fox respondents said Trump is honest and trustworthy. After the debate, that number fell to 31 percent. Clinton’s honest and trustworthy rating remained virtually the same: 34 percent before the debate versus 35 percent after the debate. That’s a nine-point net change. Before the debate, more likely voters saw Trump as honest and trustworthy than saw Clinton as honest and trustworthy. Post-debate, it’s the other way around.
The debate didn’t change likely voters’ views on Clinton’s email problem or Trump’s tax returns.
There have been a lot of polls, methodologically sound and otherwise, since Monday’s presidential debate. But it takes a while for the effect of a debate to percolate through the electorate. Voters who watched the debate think about what they’ve seen, discuss it with family and friends, and watch and read news coverage. Voters who didn’t watch form opinions from coverage and word of mouth. It all takes a few days.
Now the first real effects of the debate are becoming clear. And they are not good news for Donald Trump.
(Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.)
(EDITORS: For editorial questions, contact Lucas Wetzel at lwetzel(at)amuniversal.com.)