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Who Won The First Republican Debate?

The over- (and under-) performers

How well likely Republican primary voters who watched the debate expected each candidate to do before the debate versus how well they thought each candidate actually did

We asked respondents how they expected each candidate to do, and how well they actually did, on a five-point scale from “excellent” to “terrible” and converted each answer to a number on a 1-to-5 scale. “Excellent” was equal to 5, “very good” was equal to 4, “about average” was equal to 3, “poor” was equal to 2 and “terrible” was equal to 1. Scores were then averaged to create overall scores for each candidate. Respondents who answered “don’t know” to the expectations or performance questions were excluded.

Before the debate, our poll asked respondents to grade how they expected each candidate to perform on a five-point scale from “excellent” to “terrible.” Then, after the debate, we asked debate watchers to use the same scale to grade how they thought the candidates actually did.

Each candidate largely performed as well as Republican voters were expecting them to, according to their average performance and expectations scores. DeSantis received the highest average grade for his performance, followed closely by Haley and Ramaswamy. This was more impressive for Haley, though, considering that expectations were just slightly above average for her going into the debate. By contrast, Ramaswamy had the highest expectations of any debater going into Wednesday night. At the other end of the spectrum, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson both had the lowest expectations going into the debate and got the lowest grade for his actual performance.


August 2023