According to CNN/ORC poll, 58% of viewers thought Hillary Clinton won Monday’s debate, while 32% said Donald Trump won. How have presidential candidates fared after their first debates in the past? According to historic polls, viewers said the Democratic candidate “won” the first debate seven out of the last eight presidential election cycles. In 1984, 54% said Walter Mondale won and 35% said Ronald Reagan won; it was 38%-29% Michael Dukakis in 1988; 30%-16% Bill Clinton in 1992; 51%-32% Clinton in 1996; 48%-41% Al Gore in 2000; 53%-37% John Kerry in 2004; and 51%-38% Obama in 2008. Mitt Romney was the only Republican viewed as the winner after his first debate.
This year, Clinton and Trump have two more opportunities to make their case to voters. In the past, of the candidates who “won” the first debate according to CNN (Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama, and Romney), five were also said to have won the last debate. Reagan, Bush 41, and Obama in 2012 all “lost” their first debates, but won their closing debate. It is important to remember, winning the debate does not translate into winning the election. While viewers said Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, and Kerry “won” both their first and last debate, only Bill Clinton actually went on to win the White House.