Election polls 2016: Did the debate help or hurt Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?


On Sunday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took their gloves off for the town hall-style second debate at Washington University in St. Louis. The stakes were arguably the highest they've been since the beginning of the race, with Trump's hot-mic scandal — in which an Access Hollywood audio recording from 2005 shows the candidate bragging about his ability to get away with sexual assault — surfacing two days earlier. 

Each candidate entered the debate ring with clear objectives and expectations.

The pressure was on Trump to stop his campaign's hemorrhaging of support and supporters after the aforementioned tapes, in which he said he can "grab [women] by the pussy" because of his fame and money, leaked Friday.

In a brief, taped apology issued later that day, Trump expressed "regret" for his words before turning the focus to the allegations facing Clinton's husband. 

"There's a big difference between the words and actions of other people," Trump says in the clip. "Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims."

Trump even held a press conference immediately before the debate with women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault. One of whom, Juanita Broaddrick, accused the former president of rape more than 25 years ago, but later recanted those accusations in an affidavit. Trump proceeded to invite all of the women to sit in the front row of the debate.

With this plan of attack in mind, Clinton went into the debate expecting to capitalize on Trump's ignominy without being too aggressive.

Saul Loeb/Getty Images

What do the polls show?

The general consensus is that it was a victory for Clinton — though not a resounding one. 

AOL conducted a flash poll in St. Louis of voters watching the debate, with 52.3% believing Clinton was the winner and 47.4% believing Trump was. 

But YouGov, which surveyed 812 voters who also watched the debate, found a smaller margin of victory over Trump, with 47% thinking Clinton won, versus Trump's 42%.  

FiveThirtyEight's forecast of each candidate's chances of success showed the debated slightly helped Clinton: On Sunday, according to the site, Clinton had an 81.5% chance of winning versus Trump's 18.4% chances of success. By Monday, those numbers were respectively nudged upward and downward to 82.2% for Clinton and 17.8% for Trump. 

Conservative outlets, pundits and pollsters told a different story: Pollster and GOP supporter Frank Lutz said his focus group largely came out swinging for Trump post-debate. But the sample size was only 30 people, which also raises the question of selection bias.

So, who won?

According to most early polls, Clinton won — but not by as wide a margin as many pundits expected. However, the more comprehensive polling won't come until later in the week, when there's time to survey larger, more diverse sample sizes.