Oct 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

SurveyMonkey poll: VP debate was actually pretty good

A split screen of Mike Pence and Kamala Harris at the vice presidential debate

Pence and Harris at the vice presidential debate. Photo: Eric Baradat, Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Wednesday's vice presidential candidate debate got far better reviews in early poll numbers than a similar poll taken after the first presidential debate, with respondents calling it "civil," "informative," and even "presidential."

Why it matters: The new Axios-SurveyMonkey poll suggested that Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris made better impressions with the public than President Trump and Joe Biden did in their debate last week — or, at least, didn't actively repel voters.

By the numbers: The dominant reaction to the debate was relief, with 36% of the respondents saying they felt relieved when it was over.

  • Some of the partisans were even excited, including 25% of Republicans and 21% of Democrats.
  • It didn't generate a lot of anger: just 15% of Republicans and 9% of Democrats walked away angry. But nearly half of independents (46%) said they were disappointed — a far higher share than Democrats and Republicans.
  • By contrast, the Axios-SurveyMonkey poll taken after the first presidential debate found a lot of disappointment and anger at the loud, chaotic showdown.
A word cloud of reactions to the vice presidential debate
Graphic: SurveyMonkey

Between the lines: Both Pence and Harris did about as expected, according to the survey, with 58% saying that about Harris and 56% saying the same about Pence.

  • That means they both succeeded at an important task for running mates — don't blow it for the presidential candidate — although that probably works out better for Biden than Trump, given that he leads most national polls.
  • Some of the words respondents used to describe Pence: “professional,” “strong” and “excellent” (from Republicans), “liar,” “rude” and “evasive” (from Democrats).
  • Some of the words used to describe Harris: “strong,” “professional” and “confident” (from Democrats), “liar,” “lies” and “untruthful" (from Republicans).

The poll found that a majority of Americans would trust Harris rather than Pence (54%-44%) to handle the federal response to the coronavirus, even though Pence is the head of the coronavirus task force.

  • That sentiment was strongest among urban residents, who preferred Harris over Pence 70%-28%, while suburban residents gave Harris a smaller edge, 54%-45%.
  • Rural Americans preferred Pence, 57%-40%.

The bottom line: Will the debate change votes? Probably not. Just 14% of the respondents said there was any chance they'd change their minds on how to vote.

  • But at least it cleared the low bar of not generating the outright disgust of the Trump-Biden debate — and these days, clearing the low bar is not nothing.

Methodology: This SurveyMonkey online poll was conducted October 7-8, 2020 among a national sample of 2,708 adults in the U.S.

  • Respondents for this survey were selected from the more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
  • Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to make it more clear that 57% of rural Americans trusted Pence over Harris on the coronavirus response.

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