Press Release

Working America Asks Voters to Grade Candidate Performance Following Presidential Debate

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Working America canvassers in Ohio, North Carolina and Florida asked 3,029 voters on Tuesday night if they had watched the presidential debate and to grade the performance of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. We found that just under two-thirds of the people we spoke with had watched the debate (1,876 voters), and overall these working-class voters thought Clinton won.

Canvassers detected her supporters were energized by her strong responses. Undecided voters, however, were less likely to have watched the debate. Those who did ended the night unconvinced by the candidates and were turned off by what they perceived to be bickering. Trump supporters we spoke with voiced frustration with his performance, wanting him to zero-in on Clinton’s weaknesses instead of defending himself.

Clinton supporters gave her a B+, and Trump a D-. Trump supporters didn’t think their candidate did as well as he could have, giving him a C+ and her a C-. Undecided voters gave Clinton a C+and Trump a D+.

Using quantitative and qualitative data, the findings from our “front-porch focus group” offer a snapshot of how the election is playing out on doorsteps across crucial swing states following Monday night’s event. Across cities, the data show voters displayed similar levels of support for both candidates before and after the first presidential debate. There was no detectable shift in support following the debate among the voters with whom we spoke.

“Things are still really fluid out there,” said Karen Nussbaum, executive director of Working America. “We’re seeing a large number of dissatisfied voters who are unhappy with their choices, so they’re keeping their powder dry—even at this late stage.”

Additional observations from Tuesday’s post-debate conversations with working-class voters include:

  • Women voters thought Clinton performed better than Trump at the debate, giving her a B while Trump received a D. Even men thought Clinton outscored Trump during the exchange—she received a B-, while men gave Trump’s performance a D.
  • White male and female voters both thought Clinton bested Trump at the debate, though by slim margins: Both groups gave Trump a D+, while Clinton received a B- from white males and a B from white women for her debate performance. 
  • African-American and Latino voters were generally in agreement with their assessment of the candidates: Both African-American and Latino men awarded Clinton a B+ for her performance, while Trump earned a D- and D from these groups, respectively. African-American and Latino women were more unanimous in their opinion—both groups gave Clinton a B+ while awarding Trump an F+.

“What we’re seeing is that there’s a huge swath of incredibly frustrated undecided voters,” said Matt Morrison, political director for Working America. “When we reach these voters, we can break through the media deluge and have a respectful and engaging conversation that creates a connection on the issues they care about.”

Working America began exploring the factors behind Trump’s support among working-class voters last December, holding face-to-face conversations with swing voters in Ohio,Pennsylvania and Florida to learn more about the appeal of divisive right-wing economic rhetoric in working-class communities. Our canvassers found working-class families feeling left behind by the economic recovery and exasperated with a political system unresponsive to their needs. Despite their exasperation, voters from different neighborhoods and geographies were open to new information from an independent source and looking for clear solutions to improve their quality of life.


Unlike traditional public opinion polling, which is based on randomly sampled people intended to be representative of a given population, Working America targeted working-class voters in four battleground states. Conversations ranged from a few minutes to as long as 10 minutes. Canvassers sought to gauge why voters gave the grades they did and what appealed to them about the candidates.


CONTACT: Michael J. Brewer
[email protected]

At 3 million members, Working America mobilizes working people who don’t have the benefit of a union at work to fight for good jobs and a fair economy that benefits us all. This year, we will hold 2 million face-to-face conversations with working people in key battleground states, running the biggest independent field program on the progressive side. We're committed to uniting working people in urban and suburban communities around a shared economic agenda. For more information, visit www.WorkingAmerica.org.

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