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Post-Debate Polls Show Sanders Solidly In Third

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

Just a few weeks ago, the future of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign was fairly uncertain. On Oct. 1, Sanders was hospitalized and suspended campaign events “until further notice,” and it wasn’t until days later that his campaign confirmed that he had had a heart attack. Questions about whether Sanders would stay in the race or skip the October debate abounded, but ultimately Sanders stuck it out and returned to the trail. And it seems as if his debate performance may have helped him bounce back in the polls.

In fact, this week, a new poll from Reuters/Ipsos found Sanders ahead of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 15 percent to 11 percent.1 To be clear, in national polling averages like RealClearPolitics and The Economist, Sanders is still in third behind Warren, but when we compared Sanders’s pre- and post-debate polls, we found what looks like a small post-debate bounce.

We looked at all the national primary polls conducted in the three weeks before the Oct. 15 debate and three weeks after and calculated the pre- and post-debate averages for all the candidates who participated in the debate (excluding former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has since dropped out of the race). We first created a pollster average by averaging together all the polls from a single pollster in each time period, and then we averaged those pollster averages together to get one pre-debate and one post-debate number for each candidate. (This average of averages method means that if one pollster ran a lot of polls, it wouldn’t skew the overall average.) Although only a few polls showed Sanders ahead of Warren like in the Reuters/Ipsos poll, it certainly seems like his strong debate performance may have eased voters’ concerns about his health.

Of the three leading candidates in the race, Sanders had the largest gain in the polls after the debate, and Warren actually saw a slight decline in support. In fact, with Warren’s drop and Sanders’s gain, the gap between second and third place shrank by about 3 points in our average, from 6.8 points to 3.6 points. Technically, Buttigieg saw the largest gains following the debate — 1.7 points — but his national average is still 10 points lower than Sanders’s.

Sanders holds steady after the October debate

Polling averages for Democratic presidential candidates in the three weeks before and three weeks after the Oct. 15 debate

Polling Average
Candidate Pre-Debate Post-Debate Change
Pete Buttigieg 4.9% 6.7% +1.7
Bernie Sanders 15.2 16.6 +1.5
Joe Biden 27.3 28.2 +0.9
Amy Klobuchar 1.3 2.2 +0.8
Tulsi Gabbard 1.0 1.5 +0.5
Tom Steyer 0.6 0.8 +0.2
Cory Booker 1.7 1.9 +0.2
Andrew Yang 2.7 2.6 -0.1
Julián Castro 0.8 0.7 -0.2
Kamala Harris 4.8 4.3 -0.5
Elizabeth Warren 22.0 20.3 -1.7

For candidates’ pre- and post-debate averages, we calculated an average for all polls from a single pollster and then averaged together those pollster averages. Excludes polls that were in the field on the day of the debate.

Source: POLLS

The fact that Sanders has made gains after the debate is bullish news for his campaign, though, because heading into the debate, the public was pretty wary about his health. In a HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted the week after his heart attack, just 17 percent of Americans thought the senator was healthy enough to serve effectively as president, and the share among Democrats — 26 percent — was not much higher. By comparison, 60 percent of Democrats said former Vice President Joe Biden, who is just a year younger than Sanders, was in good enough health to serve.

Americans were also not pleased with how the Sanders campaign handled news of his heart attack. In an Economist/YouGov poll conducted after Sanders was released from the hospital, the largest share of respondents — 39 percent — said they were unsure if the campaign had been transparent about the heart attack. The rest of the respondents were fairly split: 33 percent said the campaign was transparent, while 27 percent said it was not.

So going into the last debate, it really did seem as if Sanders’s health scare had set him back in voters’ eyes. And while Sanders didn’t see huge gains in his post-debate average, what’s really important here is that his average didn’t fall. In other words, Sanders’s heart attack may not wind up costing him much in terms of his campaign. That said, it’s not all sunshine and daisies for Sanders. While he seems to have a solid hold on third place, it’s unclear whether he can expand beyond his base and make a play for second or first. One thing that is certain, though, is that Sanders is a successful grassroots fundraiser, so he can definitely afford to keep campaigning in search of a bigger base.

Other polling bites:

  • Facebook continues to take a hands-off approach toward political ads by refusing to regulate or fact-check them. Unfortunately for CEO Mark Zuckerburg, most voters — 59 percent — “somewhat” or “strongly” oppose the idea of social media platforms choosing not to remove advertisements that include lies, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. In fact, 77 percent of voters — including 81 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans — said they either “strongly” or “somewhat” support a law that ensures advertisements on social media (including political ads) are factual.
  • According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, 54 percent of Americans think Trump deserves a “great deal” or “some” amount of credit for the killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. By contrast, when the Washington Post asked about President Obama’s role in the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida’s then-leader, in 2011, 76 percent of Americans thought Obama deserved “a great deal” or “some” amount of credit.
  • In a Fox News poll released on Sunday, 50 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they would definitely vote for former first lady Michelle Obama if she entered the race. Twenty-seven percent said the same about Hillary Clinton, and just 6 percent said that about Michael Bloomberg.
  • According to that same Fox News poll, 57 percent of respondents who said they do not support the impeachment of President Trump said “nothing would cause [them] to support impeachment.” However, 34 percent said that “new evidence could make [them] support impeachment.”
  • Young Americans seem to be more politically engaged this election cycle than in 2016, according to a poll from the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. In total, 30 percent of Americans under 30 consider themselves to be politically engaged, which might not sound like a lot, but that’s up 10 percentage points from this point in the last presidential election cycle.
  • We set the clocks back last Sunday — and it’s now dark at 5 p.m. in New York, I’m sad to report. It turns out many Americans feel similarly. According to an AP-NORC poll from late October, just 28 percent of Americans prefer switching back and forth between standard time and daylight saving time over a system where the clock stayed the same year-round. Another 40 percent favored using standard time all year and 31 percent preferred daylight saving time all year.
  • There is a general election coming up in the UK on Dec. 12, and in the latest Opinium/Observer poll, the Conservatives comfortably led the Labour Party 42 percent to 26 percent. In third place were the Liberal Democrats at 16 percent, followed by the Brexit Party at 9 percent, and a few other parties polling below 5 percent. If the Conservatives hold this lead, they would have a majority in parliament.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.4 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 54.3 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.9 points). At this time last week, 41.1 percent approved and 54.1 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -13 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.5 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -12.2 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 5.4 percentage points (46.7 percent to 41.3 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 5.5 points (46.4 percent to 40.9 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.9 points (46.9 percent to 40.0 percent).


  1. Though that gap is within the poll’s credibility interval, a measure of uncertainty similar to a margin of error.

Maddie Sach was a politics intern at FiveThirtyEight.