Trump Edges Above Clinton Ahead of First Debate

(Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

Donald Trump leads Hillary Clinton by 1 percentage point among likely voters who were polled a few days ahead of the much-anticipated debate between the two presidential candidates. The debate will take place Monday evening.

The ratings for the televised matchup between the two candidates are expected to be at record highs. Two-thirds of registered voters say they expect to watch the debate, with 41 percent saying they are “very likely” to watch it.

In a nationwide poll of 1,712 likely voters taken Sept. 22 through Sept. 24, 39 percent of respondents chose Trump, while while Clinton was the choice for 38 percent. The difference between the two candidates is within the margin of error. The other candidates in the race continue to trail behind the leaders, with Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson at 9 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein at 4 percent; 10 percent of respondents say they don’t know or have no opinion.

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In a head-to-head matchup without the third-party candidates, Clinton edges out Trump by 2 points among likely voters, 44 percent to 42 percent, within the margin of error.

Among the slightly broader sample of registered voters, Clinton has a 1-point lead over Trump, 37 percent to 36 percent, with Johnson at 9 percent and Stein at 4 percent. Again, the difference between Trump and Clinton is within the margin of error.

Trump maintains his considerable lead among white likely voters, with 44 percent saying they prefer him, while 33 percent are in Clinton’s camp. Hispanics (54 percent) and African American likely voters (75 percent) are overwhelmingly for Clinton. Only 20 percent of Hispanics and 7 percent of black likely voters say they intend to vote for Trump.

When it comes to the televised debates, which can make or break a presidential campaign, respondents are evenly split between who they think will win the first one. (There are two more Clinton-Trump debates and one vice presidential debate in October.)

Almost three out of 10 registered voters (29 percent) say Trump will win on Monday, while 36 percent predict that Clinton will emerge triumphant. Tellingly, 35 percent don’t know or have no opinion.

Still, half of voters say the debates will be at least somewhat important in how they vote in November, signaling how much is at stake with each candidate’s performance. About one-fourth of voters (23 percent) say the debates will be not important at all in their choice at the ballot box.

Independent voters have a less strong opinion about the debates, suggesting that the TV events be more important in terms of shoring up commitment from party affiliates than winning over undecided voters. Independents are less likely to watch Monday’s debate than either Republicans or Democrats; 54 percent of independents say they expect to watch, while 75 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats plan to tune in.

Twice as many independents (25 percent) say they are “not at all likely” to watch Monday’s debate than Republicans (13 percent) or Democrats (12 percent).

Half of independent voters also don’t have a prediction about who will win the debate. Those who do have an opinion are evenly split between Clinton (25 percent) and Trump (25 percent).

Independent voters are far less likely to say that the debates will be “very important” in their decision at the ballot box. Only 18 percent of independents say the four debates will make a major difference in their decision, compared with 31 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of Republicans.

Many voters are tuning in to Monday’s debate to cheer on their chosen candidate, and they fully expect their choice to emerge the winner. Almost one-fourth of Clinton supporters (73 percent) say she will best Trump on Monday, while 67 percent of Trump supporters say the New York businessman will outperform Clinton. Fewer self-identified Republicans (57 percent) predict that Trump will win the debate, while 69 percent of Democrats say Clinton will win.

Even though both Johnson and Stein haven’t performed well enough in the polls to warrant a place on the national debate stage, voters still say they should have a chance to address a national audience. Half of registered voters say Johnson should debate alongside Clinton and Trump on Monday, and 45 percent say Stein should have a spot on the dais.

The national Morning Consult survey polled 1,953 registered voters and 1,712 likely voters for a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points for both samples. Likely voters: toplines and crosstabs. Registered voters: toplines and crosstabs.

The debate poll was taken among 1,953 registered voters. See debate toplines and crosstabs.

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