Winning undecided voters
Motivating their base
Who won at convincing undecided voters?
Political analyst and columnist
History often gives debates more credit than they are due. But this year, the debates seem actually to have influenced the course of the race. Clinton’s standing may have started improving just before the first debate, but by the time of Wednesday’s last meeting, she had secured a firm lead. The reason? Trump continued to run a Republican primary campaign in the general election. Whole different election. Whole different electorate.
The undecided (and lightly committed) voters Trump needed the most were suburban women and college-educated voters, who usually side with Republicans. Those voters were watching the debates to see if he could demonstrate the temperament, solidity and bearing of a president. He did not deliver. Trump seemed not to understand the difference between what gets him cheers at rallies and what he needs to win over residents of suburbs outside Philadelphia, Columbus, Ohio, and similar locales in other swing states. Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate, too, but she spoke to those voters, and polls show they responded.
"Clinton wasn’t always brilliant. She went on at length about her many proposals, but she was unflappable — and, in the end, for many voters, probably likeable enough."
"Trump’s target audience tonight -- the one that counted -- was small, composed of undecided women voters. If they’d wanted the unvarnished Trump, they would have been on his side already. They didn’t get much more tonight." Read more
"Trump, who’s behind, needed to change the direction of the campaign and show undecided voters that he can be thoughtful and measured when the situation requires. He failed."
Who motivated their base?
Washington Bureau Chief
Call this one a tie. Trump’s fierce attacks on Clinton during the second debate aimed to motivate his core supporters, and he appears to have succeeded in doing that -- preventing more Republican officials from deserting him. In the third debate, he stressed conservative positions on gun control, abortion and taxes -- all issues that help rally the Republican base.
Clinton repeatedly found ways to remind Democratic voters of her positions on reducing the costs of college, protecting abortion rights, opposition to the Citizens United decision and other liberal touchstones.
The problem for Trump is that the Democratic base is bigger than the Republican one. He needed to reach beyond his base and largely failed.
"[Trump] boasted that he didn’t really need to prepare, and, like Obama, he paid for it. But remember that Obama bounced back. Trump’s supporters will stick with him, and that gives him a chance to fight another day." — Read more
"Both candidates appeared to be talking mostly to their existing bases of supporters — Trump with his now-familiar talking points (many of them factually incorrect), Clinton by mentioning every interest in the Democratic coalition (climate change, gun control, LGBT rights)." — Read more
"Consider their closing statements: Clinton actively reached out to Republicans and independents and spoke of an inclusive society; Trump spent much of his time bashing her and then tossed in a falsehood (that illegal immigrants receive more services than veterans do)." —
Who best explained their policy positions?
On policy, Clinton won hands down – because Trump so often floundered. On foreign policy, a potential vulnerability for Clinton, Trump was clearly over his head. He claimed repeatedly that he opposed the Iraq war before 2003 (he didn’t) and that the Syrian city of Aleppo has fallen (it hasn’t). He struggled to explain his views on nuclear weapons. Clinton’s positions aren’t uniformly popular, but as a former secretary of State she knows the material better.
On economics and jobs, Trump’s approach boils down to a simple equation: Lower taxes will produce spectacular economic growth rates (at least 5%, he said in the third debate), thus solving every problem from jobs to the national debt. If only life were that simple. Clinton has a hard time distilling her domestic policies to clear, concrete examples, but she hammered at the fact that Trump’s tax proposals would mostly benefit the wealthy and blow a hole in the federal budget – assertions that have the added advantage of being true.
"“You have no plan.” Clinton: “I do … I have written a book about it.” That pretty much sums it up. Clinton has a book. It’s not terribly exciting, but she knows her policy." —
"A series of questions that veered into policy -- dangerous ground for Trump. Clinton knew what she was talking about on healthcare; Trump claimed all problems could be solved merely by eliminating state lines on insurance policies." — Read more
"Trump is a black/white, yes/no candidate; foreign policy is rife with nuance, compromise and deliberation. And his tendency to just insult American leaders and talk about how “stupid” they are rings poorly. Clinton has made mistakes in this area, and admits them. Trump is just out of his depth." — Read more
Who had the best performance?
MARK Z. BARABAK
Donald Trump huffed and he puffed — and very well seemed to blow away any chance of winning the White House. From seeming to stalk Hillary Clinton during the town hall debate to his frequent “did not” interruptions (often contradicted by his own videotaped statements), Trump turned in a series of performances that struck many voters as petulant. He had moments of sobriety and substance. But those only seemed to last about 30 minutes at a stretch. Hillary Clinton wins this category, hands-down.
"Trump, had he been better able, could have turned the tables back on her at several points (he didn’t go at her trustworthiness apart from one email gibe). But instead he interrupted her with words that admitted her claims were true. Politics is harder than it seems, and Trump found that out tonight." —
"Both candidates appear hell-bent on getting under each other’s skin. Based on past performance, that’s going to be easier for Clinton to achieve over 90 minutes than Trump...Both landed punches. Clinton defended better -- but this time, she didn’t emerge unscathed." — Read more
"Trump did better in this debate than in the previous two. He kept his cool most of the time, and he stuck to his campaign’s points for much of the 90 minutes. But his statement that he would not pledge to abide by the results of the election if he loses overshadowed everything else." — Read more
Credits: Illustrations by David Horsey. Design and development by Priya Krishnakumar.