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Who Will Win The First Republican Debate?

Who Will Win The First Republican Debate? 1

Wednesday is the biggest day of the 2024 presidential race so far. Eight candidates will take the stage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for the first Republican primary debate. Chances are good that something will happen tonight that will be touted as a potential game-changer in the race: a viral moment, a particularly withering attack line, an out-of-nowhere tour de force. But how can we know whether that moment really changes voters’ minds, or if it was just a tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Ideally, we’d take voters’ temperatures on the presidential primary just before the debate, then go back to the same people after the debate and ask them the same questions again.

So that’s exactly what we’re doing. FiveThirtyEight has partnered with Ipsos and The Washington Post to conduct a Republican primary poll both before and after tonight’s debate. The charts below represent the views of likely Republican primary voters between Aug. 15 and Aug. 22, the first wave of the poll. Tomorrow, we’ll update this page with the results of the post-debate wave with new findings about what — if anything — changed.

Debate expectations

How well likely Republican primary voters think each participating candidate will do at the debate

We asked respondents how they expected each candidate to do on a five-point scale from “excellent” to “terrible” and converted each answer to a number on a 1-to-5 scale. “Excellent” was equal to 5, “very good” was equal to 4, “about average” was equal to 3, “poor” was equal to 2 and “terrible” was equal to 1. Scores were then averaged to create an overall expectations score for each candidate. Respondents who answered “don’t know” to the expectations question were excluded.

Debate performances are often judged relative to expectations. If a candidate who was expected to have a good debate instead has a mediocre one, it tends to get a lot more negative coverage than if that candidate was already expected to do poorly. So one thing we wanted to establish before the debate was how high (or low) expectations were for each candidate.

The FiveThirtyEight/Washington Post/Ipsos poll, conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, asked likely Republican primary voters how they expected each candidate to perform on a five-point scale from “excellent” to “terrible.” Above is each candidate’s average score. As you can see, Republican voters have relatively high expectations for businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — a dangerous place to be — while they’re not expecting much out of former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson or North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

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