Who won the VP debate? Polls show what Americans thought of Pence and Harris

Bailey Aldridge
·3 min read

New polls released after the Wednesday debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris show who Americans think came out on top.

The 90-minute vice presidential debate touched on several topics — including the environment, race and the Supreme Court — and hinged largely on the coronavirus pandemic. Though some of the moderator’s questions went unanswered by the candidates, the debate overall included far fewer interruptions and broken rules than last week’s presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

A CNN poll of 609 registered voters who watched the debate found Harris came out on top.

Fifty-nine percent said they think she did the “best job” during the debate while 38% said the same of Pence and 3% said they did “equally well.”

The survey was conducted Oct. 7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 percentage points.

Similarly, a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll that asked 1,725 adults to rate each candidate’s performance and their answers on policies found more gave Harris a “good” rating than Pence in both categories.

While 69.3% of respondents who watched at least part of the debate said Harris’ performance was “good,” 59.5% said the same of Pence, and while 61.7% said her answers on policy were “good,” 44.1% said the same of his.

Meanwhile, 38.8% of respondents rated Pence’s performance as “poor” while 28.7% said the same of Harris, and 52.6% said his answers on policy were “poor” while 35.6% said the same of hers.

The poll, however, found the debate didn’t change how Americans are planning to vote. But Harris’ favorability did see a shift.

A poll before the debate found Harris had a net favorability of +4 percentage points. After the debate, her favorable rating went up by 6 percentage points for a net favorability of +10. FiveThirtyEight defined net favorability as the rate of those who viewed the candidates favorably minus the rate of who viewed them unfavorably.

Pence held steady at a net favorability of -14, the poll found.

“Both Harris and Pence had a large share of people who either hadn’t heard of them or didn’t have an opinion of them going into the debate, so there was an opportunity for them both to shift their favorable numbers,” FiveThirtyEight says. “It seems, though, that Harris made a more positive impression.”

The CNN poll also found the debate didn’t change who most voters plan to cast their ballot for.

Fifty-five percent of respondents said it had “no effect” on their vote.

Harris’s favorability saw a boost in the CNN poll as well. While 56% said they had a favorable opinion of her in a poll conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 4, 63% said in the same in the Oct. 7 poll.

She also came out on top in a number of categories the poll asked about, including who expressed their views more clearly, who did a better job of defending their running mate and who is “more in touch with the needs and problems of people like you.”

Pollster Frank Luntz told Fox News that voters seemed to appreciate that Harris and Pence were “significantly more cordial” than the candidates during the presidential debate.

“They really did not like the ducking of questions,” Luntz said. “But they were so much happier with this debate than they were the first one. The first one to them was embarrassing. This one, at least, they had the decorum. But the frustration ... was (that) ‘They’re ducking the question, they are pivoting.’”

Some analysts also say the vice presidential debate was unlikely to shift how people would vote.

How voters viewed the candidates was divided on partisan lines and “in that sense, there was no clear winner or loser,” The New York Times reports.

“Partisans on both sides will like what their candidate did, dislike the other candidate, and no minds will change,” Bruce Haynes, a Republican strategist, told The Times, adding it was doubtful the debate would have any effect on undecided voters.