October 20th, 2016
COLUMBIA, MO – Researchers at the University of Missouri found that college students perceive that Hillary Clinton consistently outperformed Donald Trump in their three presidential debates. Results from the studies showed that evaluations of Clinton rose after every debate, while evaluations of Trump largely remained the same.
In the first two debates, researchers found that the number of college-aged voters who said they would most likely vote for Clinton rose, while the likelihood they would vote for Trump decreased in the first debate, and remained the same in the second. In last night’s debate, the percentage of students who said they would vote for Clinton rose from 46 percent before the debate to 51 percent after the debate. The likelihood they would vote for Trump stayed at 26 percent and those who chose “neither” candidates declined from 27 to 23 percent. Among participants in last night’s debate-viewing study, 42 percent self-identified as Democrats, 39 percent as Republicans, and 19 percent as Independents.
“These numbers indicate that Hillary Clinton had consistent performances in all three presidential debates,” said Mitchell S. McKinney, professor of communication and the director of the Political Communication Institute. “Among our sample of college-aged students, Hillary Clinton’s performance in every debate moved undecided voters toward her, while Trump’s debate performances did not do the same for him.”
Researchers surveyed approximately 1800 college-aged participants throughout the debate series from MU, as well as students from Bradley University in Illinois, Cameron University in Oklahoma, Emerson College in Boston, Indiana University, Iowa State University, Marquette University, Missouri State University, Rhodes College in Tennessee, San Diego State University, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the University of Wyoming. Before and after each debate, the participants were asked which candidate they were most likely to vote for.
Participants were also asked to evaluate candidates using a “feeling thermometer” from 0-100. Clinton’s evaluations rose in the first two debates, while Trump’s evaluations rose in the first debate but declined in the second. In last night’s debate, Clinton’s evaluations rose again from 38 degrees to 44 degrees after the debate. Trump’s evaluation remained steady at 27 degrees.
“Given the number of uncommitted voters, and how lukewarm people felt toward both candidates, there was plenty of room for growth, and Hillary Clinton capitalized on it in all three debates while Donald Trump did not,” said Benjamin Warner, assistant professor of communication at the University of Missouri. “Clinton’s increases in evaluations after all three debates is significant when compared to our previous data. In 2004, both John Kerry and George W. Bush benefited from increases in evaluations after every debate, but this is the first cycle where one candidate had all positive increases in every debate and the other candidate had none.”
The Political Communication Institute at the University of Missouri develops knowledge and promotes greater understanding of the role of ethical and effective communication in developing a vibrant participatory democracy and political processes representative of and responsive to all citizens. Researchers within the Institute have conducted similar studies for every presidential election since 2000.
Editors’ Note: Inquiries about the study can be emailed to MizzouDebates@Gmail.com.
The previous research cited here is available on the PCI website (pci.missouri.edu) in the 2013 article by McKinney and Warner, “Do presidential debates matter? Examining a decade of campaign debate effects.”