The first Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump debate last week didn’t boost Clinton’s overall lead over Trump significantly in Virginia overall, but it prompted some shifts among critical groups of voters that could prove significant, the student pollsters at Christopher Newport University found.
Their poll after the first debate found Clinton’s lead over Trump stood at 42 percent to 35 percent, a seven point gap, when all five candidates on the ballot were options compared to a 39 percent to 33 percent gap before the debate. Clinton’s lead is outside the poll’s margin of error in both cases, but the slight widening of the gap is within that margin.
But where the poll showed bigger, and significant, change was Clinton’s support from independent voters.
After the debate, her support in this critical group rose to 34 percent from 21 percent before the debate. Most of this came from independents who had been supporting Libertarian Gary Johnson, whose support dropped from 31 percent to 20 percent.
“Following what was by most accounts a difficult first debate for Donald Trump, our survey finds significant shifts in support in a key voting group: Independents,” said Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center.
Among voters ages 18-34 Clinton has increased her support from 34 percent to 42 percent, the new poll from CNU's Wason Center for Public Policy reported. That, too, is a statistically significant move.
Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center, that that shift could be particularly important, since younger voters have been a critical part of the coalition that swept President Barack Obama into the White House.
Clinton also seems to have picked up some Republican voters, winning support of 8 percent of those voters after the debate, compared to 3 percent before. The percentage of Republicans saying they'll vote for Trump declined to 73 percent from 78 percent. That change is barely within the margin of error for this sub-set of the poll.
Trump's ability to woo independent voters, and to hold on to Republicans whose views on foreign affairs, trade and immigration differ from his, could be critical on Election Day.
Clinton also seems to have narrowed Trump's lead among military households. Her support stood at 36 percent compared to 37 percent after the debate, well within the margin error, compared with Trump's 39 percent to 32 percent lead before the debate. But because of the relatively large margin of error, it isn't clear how large an impact the debate had with this group.
The poll is based on 892 interviews of likely Virginia voters conducted Sept 27-30, 2016. The margin of error for the whole survey is plus or minus 3,7 percentage points for the whole poll, including design effect adjustment of 1.2. The error margins for subgroups, such as independent voters, is larger: plus or minus 6.2 points for the independents, plus or minus 6.6 points for Republican voters, plus or minus 6.9 points for millennials and plus or minus 7 points for military households.