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After Debates, Clinton’s Increased Positive Scores by College-Aged Students is Historic

Clinton continues to gain while Trump slides among college-aged survey participants in results shared by MU political communication experts

October 10th, 2016

Story Contact: Jeff Sossamon, 573-882-3346,

Story Contact: Mitchell S. McKinney, 573-882-9230 (office), 573-489-9709 (cell),

COLUMBIA, MO – Results of a debate-viewing study held at the University of Missouri and campuses across the country revealed that, among college-aged students, Hillary Clinton again outperformed Donald Trump on the debate stage. In the study of last night’s second presidential debate, nearly 400 college students viewed the debate and completed questionnaires before and after the “town hall” style contest. In research compiled by the group in the last four presidential cycles, Clinton’s 6-point gain in evaluations is the second highest increase—behind her record-setting 10-point increase among college-aged students in the last debate. Results also indicate that a majority of participants who had heard of Trump’s recently released remarks disparaging women believed the comments should disqualify him from serving as President.

Before the debate, participants were asked if they had heard about remarks made by Trump in 2005 that recently were released to the public by The Washington Post. Among participants:

  • 67 percent had heard about Trump’s comments;
  • Of those who had heard overall, 52 percent said the comments were disqualifying for Trump as a presidential candidate;
  • 61 percent of female respondents and 41 percent of male respondents believed the remarks to be disqualifying;
  • 82 percent of respondents who’d heard about the 2005 “Access Hollywood” comments believed that it would significantly hurt his chances of being elected.

“These numbers indicate that the 48 hours between the release of Donald Trump’s comments and his debate performance Sunday night has had a negative effect on Trump’s standing with these younger voters,” said Mitchell S. McKinney, professor of communication and director of the Political Communication Institute at the University of Missouri.

Before and after the debate, participants were asked to record which candidate they were most likely to vote for and support. Results showed similar responses to the first debate, with Clinton gaining support and Trump’s support remaining constant. Clinton’s second debate performance increased students’ likelihood of voting for her from 45 percent before the debate to 50 percent afterward. In the first debate, likelihood of voting for Clinton increased from 43 percent to 54 percent.

Trump’s second debate performance did not increase the likelihood of student viewers voting for him, with 32 percent reporting so before the debate and 32 percent reporting so afterward. Undecided participants went from 23 percent before the debate to 18 percent after.

“If one of the most important measures of a debate performance is to win over undecided voters, then Trump has not done that in these first two debates,” McKinney said.  Among participants in the study, 43 percent self-identified as Democrats, 40 percent as Republicans, and 17 percent as Independents.

Candidate evaluations before and after the debate indicated similar results to the first debate with Clinton improving her evaluations and Trump remaining relatively unchanged. Using a “feeling thermometer” from 0-100, evaluations of Clinton rose from 38 degrees before the debate to 44 degrees after the second debate. In the first debate, evaluations of Clinton went from 38 to 48 degrees. Evaluations of Trump after the second debate went from 30 degrees before the debate to 31 degrees, while in the first debate his evaluations dropped slightly from 28 to 27 degrees.

“Clinton’s improvement in evaluations after both debates is historically significant when compared to the four other presidential election cycles for which the Mizzou research team has collected similar data,” said Benjamin Warner, assistant professor of communication at Missouri. “Clinton’s 6-point increase in evaluations is the second highest increase in our data, behind Clinton’s 10-point increase two weeks ago.”

College students from several campuses throughout the nation participated in the study, including students from Cameron University in Oklahoma, Emerson College in Boston, Iowa State University, Marquette University, Missouri State University, the University of Missouri, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the University of Wyoming. The PCI-led research consortium plans to conduct another debate-viewing study for the third presidential debate on October 19.

Editors’ Note: Inquiries about the study can be emailed to

The previous research cited here is available on the PCI website ( in the 2013 article by McKinney and Warner, “Do presidential debates matter? Examining a decade of campaign debate effects:”