The Numbers Are in and It Looks Like Trump Benefited the Most From the Republican Debate

AP Photo/Morry Gash

The polls continue to come in after the first Republican presidential primary debate, and it’s not looking too shabby for former President Donald Trump. A new poll suggests that while Republican voters seem to have a clear idea of which candidate performed the best, the overall population wasn’t all that impressed just yet. If this continues, the former president might have an easier time winning the GOP nod than it seemed previously.

An Economist/YouGov poll paints a rather complex portrait of the GOP primary landscape after the candidates duked it out on the state last Wednesday. The numbers show that about two-thirds of U.S. adults either watched the debate, or at least part of it, or had seen clips and news reports on it afterward. But it does not seem the event made much of an impact on the electorate.

The survey revealed that entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy was the favorite among Republicans and GOP-leaning Independents, 31 percent of whom indicated they believed he was the victor in the debate. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis trailed 12 points behind at 19 percent, while former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley ended up in third place at eight percent. 

However, when it comes to the nation as a whole, the results are different. Ramaswamy still held the lead at 17 percent, with Haley in second place at 13 percent. DeSantis took third place at 10 percent. But what is noteworthy about these numbers is that 27 percent of respondents indicated that “none” of the contenders won. Even further, about 23 percent indicated they were “not sure” who they believed was victorious. If these numbers are accurate, this means that 50 percent of Americans could not decide which contender performed best.

Among Republicans, 14 percent said “none,” while 22 percent said “not sure.” This means that over one-third of conservative-leaning voters could not choose a clear winner of the contest.

These results seem to suggest that despite the zingers and political showmanship, none of the candidates on that stage pulled off a breakaway moment that resonated with the populace. This is what I expected to happen after I watched the debate. Most of the candidates turned in a decent enough performance but not enough to move the needle.

On the other hand, it seemed to be a much better night for Trump, who skipped the debate and chose to do an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson instead. Indeed, while many criticized the former president for not participating in the proceedings, the poll showed that by a three-to-one margin, Republican voters either “strongly” or “somewhat” approved of his absence from the debate, meaning that these folks have likely already made up their minds about who they want to tackle Biden (figuratively) in the 2024 general election.

In fact, the survey asked Republican respondents who they would prefer as their nominee if the primary election were held today. About 51 percent indicated they would support the former president, a huge 37-point lead over DeSantis, who remains his closest rival.

It is also worth knowing who Republicans don’t want as the nominee. You might not be too surprised to find out that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence fared the worst in this particular survey. About half of the respondents indicated both candidates performed poorly.

These numbers raise an important question: What does this mean for the Republican Party and the 2024 presidential election? For starters, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Trump’s victory is a foregone conclusion. Yes, none of the other candidates did much to increase their numbers, but it is still early. There is plenty of time for folks like DeSantis, Haley, and Ramaswamy to make their case to the Republican base.

But we still can’t ignore the fact that the former president remains a popular figure on the right. The series of politically motivated indictments and other ploys to keep him from occupying the White House again are only fueling his support. At this point, the primaries are Trump’s to lose. But his legal troubles could even the odds for the eventual challenger that will emerge when the primaries are close to a conclusion.


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