Quick surveys of who won a policy debate are necessarily incomplete indicators. They only include those who watched the debate, not the wider electorate, and they precede the coming days of spin wars and media coverage that will shape voters' understanding of what is happening.
Given these flaws, the first poll of the Vice Presidential Debate audience is good news for Senator Kamala Harris – and her colleague Joe Biden.
The poll, conducted by CNN and SSRS, found that 59 percent of the debate watchers believed Harris won and 38 percent believed Vice President Mike Pence won, an impressive profit margin for Harris. (This poll differs from the simple web polls, which anyone can vote on. It is a methodologically sound, if somewhat premature poll, where respondents are contacted at random.)
CNN's David Chalian on the air pointed out that part of Harris' margin is explained by the poll's more democratic sample. But that's not enough to explain Harris's entire margin: 38 percent of those polled were Democrats, 29 percent were Republicans, and 33 percent were Independent.
The survey also found that 63 percent of respondents said Harris qualified as president, while 65 percent said pence qualified. (This means that many respondents who thought Pence lost the debate still thought he was qualified to be president.)
Chalian also pointed out that there was a massive gender gap in the opinions of the debate. According to the survey, 69 percent of women who watched thought Harris won and 30 percent thought pence won. For the male viewer, it was almost synonymous – 48 percent thought Harris had won and 46 percent thought pence had won.
In comparison, a poll by CNN after the 2016 Vice Presidential debate found that Pence won: 48 percent of those polled that year gave Pence the win and 42 percent said Hillary Clinton's runner-up Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).
A vice presidential debate is unlikely to make much of a difference in the broader race – especially this year if President Donald Trump continues to dominate the news. But with Biden continuing to lead in polls, Trump has run out of time to change things. Some Republicans hoped that pence could turn the debate around. After that first poll, at least he didn't.
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