Clinton Wins Third Debate, Gains Ground as 'Presidential'

Clinton Wins Third Debate, Gains Ground as 'Presidential'

Clinton Wins Third Debate, Gains Ground as 'Presidential'

The FINANCIAL -- Hillary Clinton won round three of the 2016 presidential debates, according to Americans who watched or listened to the event on October 19 evening. Six in 10 of those who tuned in thought Clinton did the better job, while 31% chose Donald Trump.

Clinton's sweep of all three debates puts her in the company of Barack Obama in 2008, John Kerry in 2004 and Bill Clinton in 1996. Each won all of the presidential debates that took place in those election years, although Kerry still failed to win the 2004 election.

In addition to nearly unanimously being perceived as the winner by rank-and-file Democrats (96%) for her performance in the debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Clinton was the solid pick among political independents (58%). Nearly one in five Republicans (19%) also chose her as the winner.

The 29-percentage-point overall advantage for Clinton in perceptions of who won the third debate is almost as big as her 34-point lead over Trump in the first debate. A bare majority of Republicans thought Trump won the first debate -- his worst performance of the three. And Clinton's third-debate advantage is a clear improvement over her 18-point lead in overall perceptions of who won the second debate.

Two-Thirds of Female Viewers Pick Clinton as the Winner

Part of the reason for Clinton's strong advantage over Trump in all three post-debate polls is the high proportion of women naming her as the winner in each. Most recently, 67% of women watching the third debate said Clinton performed best, whereas 26% chose Trump -- better than 2-to-1. Men also chose Clinton over Trump, but by a slimmer 19-point margin (54% vs. 35%).

Clinton Stretches Her Advantage as "Presidential"

After each debate, Gallup has asked viewers to compare the candidates' performance on four specific personal dimensions, including their command of the issues, appearance as presidential, likability and ability to be inspiring.

Clinton excelled on perceptions of competency in the first debate, with 62% saying she had the better understanding of issues versus 26% naming Trump on this dimension. In the second debate, her ratings for being likable inched higher while the others held steady or sagged slightly. In the third debate, she made some headway on the final two qualities:

Sixty-four percent of viewers chose Clinton as the more presidential of the two candidates on the Nevada stage, up from 56% in the second debate and 59% in the first.

The percentage choosing Clinton as the more inspiring increased slightly -- to 50% from 44% in the second debate and 46% in the first.

The moderator of the third debate, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, stuck to the handful of policy-based issues he pre-announced he would focus on.

Clinton came out significantly ahead of Trump in viewers' ratings of their performance on most of these, holding a particularly strong edge in perceptions of who would best deal with international crises as president. Sixty percent chose her, compared with 35% naming Trump.

Clinton also led by roughly 15 points as the better candidate to deal with immigration, the Supreme Court, Social Security and Russia.

At the same time, Trump came within four points of Clinton in ratings of which would be better for the economy and the federal debt, indicating a potential vulnerability for Clinton in the closing days of the campaign.

Debate Viewers Ready to Accept Election Outcome

Reiterating his concerns about voter fraud and other ways the presidential election might be corrupted, Trump refused to guarantee that he would "absolutely accept the result of this election" when Wallace asked the Republican nominee if he agreed with his running mate's pledge.

However, 83% of Americans who watched or heard the third debate responded affirmatively to the same question, including 94% of Democrats, 80% of independents and 77% of Republicans. While 12% of Republicans said they would not accept the results, nearly as many (9%) said "it depends," possibly reflecting the Trump campaign's post-debate spin that a recount would be warranted if Trump were to lose by a narrow margin.

Bottom Line

Whatever the outcome of the presidential election, Clinton accomplished a trifecta in the debates, leading Trump by substantial margins in viewer perceptions of who won each contest. And, as evident in her gains on the personal qualities Gallup tracked across the debates, Clinton maintained or strengthened her image as an informed leader with the temperament to be president.

On the issues, Clinton earned a commanding lead in the third debate for being better prepared to handle international crises and led Trump on two of his signature themes -- dealing with Russia and immigration. The one area where she may be vulnerable is the economy, for which debate viewers were nearly as likely to say Trump would be the more effective of the two if elected president.