Who Will Win The First Republican Debate?

Who Will Win The First Republican Debate?

Wednesday is the biggest day of the 2024 presidential race so far. Eight candidates will take the stage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for the first Republican primary debate. Chances are good that something will happen tonight that will be touted as a potential game-changer in the race: a viral moment, a particularly withering attack line, an out-of-nowhere tour de force. But how can we know whether that moment really changes voters’ minds, or if it was just a tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Ideally, we’d take voters’ temperatures on the presidential primary just before the debate, then go back to the same people after the debate and ask them the same questions again.

So that’s exactly what we’re doing. FiveThirtyEight has partnered with Ipsos and The Washington Post to conduct a Republican primary poll both before and after tonight’s debate. The charts below represent the views of likely Republican primary voters between Aug. 15 and Aug. 22, the first wave of the poll. Tomorrow, we’ll update this page with the results of the post-debate wave with new findings about what — if anything — changed.

Debate expectations

How well likely Republican primary voters think each participating candidate will do at the debate


We asked respondents how they expected each candidate to do 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 an overall expectations score for each candidate. Respondents who answered “don’t know” to the expectations question were excluded.

Debate performances are often judged relative to expectations. If a candidate who was expected to have a good debate instead has a mediocre one, it tends to get a lot more negative coverage than if that candidate was already expected to do poorly. So one thing we wanted to establish before the debate was how high (or low) expectations were for each candidate.

The FiveThirtyEight/Washington Post/Ipsos poll, conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, asked likely Republican primary voters how they expected each candidate to perform on a five-point scale from “excellent” to “terrible.” Above is each candidate’s average score.1 As you can see, Republican voters have relatively high expectations for businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — a dangerous place to be — while they’re not expecting much out of former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson or North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

Who voters are considering

Share of likely Republican primary voters who are considering voting for each candidate


Respondents could pick multiple candidates.

The poll also asked which candidates Republican voters were considering voting for. (Note that this was not a traditional horse-race poll; respondents could say they were considering voting for multiple candidates. Additionally, all numbers in this article exclude respondents who skipped the question, which is why our numbers sometimes differ from those on Ipsos’s website.) To no one’s surprise, former President Donald Trump (who is not participating in the debate) and DeSantis had the highest share of Republicans saying they were considering voting for them. They’re followed by a closely bunched middle tier consisting of former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Ramaswamy. Bringing up the rear are former Texas Rep. Will Hurd and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, neither of whom made the debate stage tonight. We’ll be watching to see how these numbers shift after the debate.

The popularity contest

Candidates’ favorable and unfavorable ratings among likely Republican primary voters

Before debate
No opinion/Never heard of

Another important metric is the candidates’ favorable and unfavorable ratings; generally, successful candidates have strongly positive net favorability ratings among members of their own party. Going into the debate, Trump (who has a 66 percent favorable rating and a 32 percent unfavorable rating) and DeSantis (59 percent to 26 percent) are in good shape in this regard, whereas Pence (40 percent to 48 percent) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (21 percent to 49 percent) could really use a popularity boost from this debate.

But perhaps the candidates with the most to gain tonight are those with low name recognition: for example, 85 percent of Republican voters have never heard of Burgum or don’t have an opinion of him, and 73 percent don’t know or have an opinion of Hutchinson. A strong debate performance could change that in a hurry.

Which issues matter most?

Share of likely Republican primary voters who said each issue was among the most important to determining their primary vote

Getting inflation or increasingcosts under controlControlling immigrationSomeone fightingagainst liberalism andthe woke agendaAbility to beat JoeBidenCutting governmentspendingKeeping Americasafe from foreignconflicts orterrorismLowering taxesCombattingpoliticalextremism orpolarizationGetting inflation or increasingcosts under controlControlling immigrationSomeone fightingagainst liberalism andthe woke agendaAbility to beat JoeBidenCutting governmentspendingKeeping Americasafe from foreignconflicts orterrorismLowering taxesCombattingpoliticalextremism orpolarization53%53%36%36%25%25%25%25%23%23%20%20%15%15%15%15%53%53%36%36%25%25%25%25%23%23%20%20%15%15%15%15%

The top eight issues are shown. Other issues are reducing crime or gun violence, 13%; protecting gun rights, 12%; improving health care, 10%; improving election security or fighting election fraud, 10%; strengthening education, 7%; limiting abortion, 6%; fighting against opioid or drug addiction, 5%; something else, 4%; reducing unemployment, 3%; don’t know, 1%. Respondents could select up to three issues from a list of 16, with additional options for “something else” and “don’t know.”

The FiveThirtyEight/Washington Post/Ipsos poll also asked likely Republican primary voters what issues were most important in determining their primary vote. (Respondents were allowed to select up to three issues from a list of 16.) The most common response was getting inflation or costs under control, with 53 percent of Republicans picking it. Controlling immigration came in second place with 36 percent. Ability to beat President Biden, fighting liberalism and the woke agenda and cutting government spending were all bunched up together at around one-quarter. Interestingly, improving election security and limiting abortion were among the least important issues, with only 10 percent and 6 percent of Republicans, respectively, choosing them as one of their top priorities.

All the data presented here comes from polling done by Ipsos for FiveThirtyEight and The Washington Post using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, a probability-based online panel that is recruited to be representative of the U.S. population. Numbers on this page exclude respondents who skipped each question. This first wave of the poll was conducted from Aug. 15 through Aug. 22 among a general population sample of adults, with 4,968 respondents who said they were likely to vote in their state’s Republican primary or caucus. For the likely Republican primary voter subset of respondents, the poll has a margin of error of ±1.6 percentage points. Click here for a full methodology.

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