Americans Agree! Their Man Won the Debate

President Donald Trump gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(CN) — After the highly contentious — and unprecedented — presidential debate in Cleveland this week, new polling data shows that half of voters believe former Vice President Joe Biden outperformed President Donald Trump during the event, even if they felt the whole affair was a rather unpleasant one.

After a first presidential debate between Biden and Trump that has been widely criticized for being an unproductive and combative 90-minute mess — due in no small part to Trump’s frequent interruptions and clashes with both Biden and moderator Chris Wallace — a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Thursday shows that half of voters believe that Biden preformed the best. Only 34% said they thought that Trump was the one who came out on top, while the remaining 16% said they had no opinion on the matter or just weren’t sure.

While most voters say they had at least some exposure to Tuesday night’s event, with 69% saying they watched the debate and another 85% saying they had at least seen, read or heard about some of it, this higher level of viewership did not translate to enjoyment. Over half (52%) of those polled said they did not enjoy the presidential debate in the slightest.

According to Thursday’s poll, this displeasure with the debate stems from what voters described as a disrespectful and disruptive evening. Just 10% of those who watched the debate said they felt the candidates were respectful of each other’s time while on stage, while an overwhelming 86% said they felt the candidates were interruptive.

Between the two, however, most voters place the blame for the disruptive evening squarely at Trump’s feet. While just 18% of voters believed that Biden interrupted the most, 71% said that it was clearly Trump who behaved the worst.

These negative feelings expressed by voters in Thursday’s poll largely line up with the widespread pushback against the debate and how it was conducted. These criticisms went so far as to even elicit a response from the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which announced a day after the event that it would take additional steps or adopt new strategies to maintain some semblance of order in future presidential debates this month.

One such strategy being touted by some commentators giving the moderator of a presidential debate authority to cut a candidate’s microphone when he cuts into his opponent’s time. Voters like that idea:  roughly three-quarters of voters say they think giving a moderator mic-cutting authority would be a good idea, while 50% of voters think it is “definitely” a good idea. Another 64% also say that, aside from cutting microphones, they would support a new provision in the debate rules that could penalize candidates for interrupting.

In an interesting twist, however, despite overwhelmingly negative reviews from voters regarding the first clash between Biden and Trump, most still think that the show should go on as planned. Over half (55%) said that there should be more debates between the two candidates for president, while 29% felt one is enough.

The future of presidential debates this election cycle could potentially prove consequential, as Thursday’s poll reports that with Election Day just 33 days away there is still a pocket of voters who could change their minds on who to vote for. While 86% of those polled said they had definitely made their choice, 14% say they could still change their mind before November 3 — a small but potentially crucial portion of voters in an election that could be decided by the slimmest of margins.

Regardless on which way the election goes in a few weeks, one thing voters continue express is a general dissatisfaction with Trump’s job performance in office. As Trump enters the final months of his first presidential term, 54% of voters say they disapprove of how he has managed the presidency thus far.

Another 55% also view the president unfavorably in general. A similar majority say they have favorable feelings for his opponent, Biden.

Thursday’s poll of 1,856 registered voters contained a 2% margin of error.

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