Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton laugh together before the start of the first Democratic debate last week in Las Vegas. (Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters)
Most people who watched the first Democratic presidential debate believe Hillary Clinton turned in the best performance of any of the five candidates on stage — but it did not give the former secretary of state a significant bump in the race for the Democratic nomination.
According to a CNN/ORC national poll released Monday, 62 percent of Democrat or Democratic-leaning voters said Clinton did the best job during last week’s debate, compared to 35 percent who said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders did the best job. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and ex-Virginia Sen. Jim Webb received 1 percent each, while former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee did not register, according to the poll.
But the same poll found Clinton’s lead on Sanders had actually decreased following the debate.
A CNN/ORC survey conducted last month showed Clinton (42 percent) with an 18-point lead on Sanders (24 percent) and 20-point advantage on Vice President Joe Biden (22 percent), who is said to be still mulling a late presidential bid. But the new poll — conducted over three days after the debate — shows support for Clinton (45 percent) is up just 3 percentage points while support for Sanders (29 percent) has jumped five. Support for Biden, who did not take part in the debate, has slipped four points to 18 percent, the survey found.
CNN/ORC poll, Sept. 17-19, 2015:
• Clinton - 42%
• Sanders - 24%
• Biden - 22%
CNN/ORC poll, Oct. 14-17, 2015:
• Clinton - 45%
• Sanders - 29%
• Biden - 18%
One possible reason for Sanders’ post-debate rise: Those who watched the debate viewed him favorably. According to the survey, 84 percent of Democrats saw Sanders in a favorable light, compared with 62 percent of Democratic voters generally. Clinton’s favorability among Democrats who watched the debate was virtually the same as it is among those who did not.
The CNN/ORC survey also shows a change in support for a Biden bid. In August, 53 percent of those polled wanted the vice president to jump into the race, compared with 45 percent who would prefer he did not. The new poll found 47 percent want Biden to run, while 49 percent think he should stay out.
If Biden decides not to run, Clinton stands to benefit the most.
Without Biden in the field, Clinton’s lead over Sanders would climb to 23 points, the poll found, with 56 percent backing the former secretary and 33 percent supporting the independent Vermont senator.
Another presidential candidate who would benefit from a decision by Biden to remain on the sidelines: Ben Carson.
The retired neurosurgeon, who is second behind frontrunner Donald Trump in the race for the Republican nomination, holds a slim lead on both Clinton (48 percent to 47 percent) and Sanders (48 percent to 46 percent) in theoretical general election match-ups. But against Biden, Carson trails by eight points (52 percent to 44 percent).
But Clinton, Sanders and Biden would each defeat Trump if he were the GOP nominee:
• Biden - 53%
• Trump - 43%
• Sanders - 53%
• Trump - 44%
• Clinton - 50%
• Trump - 45%
Source: CNN/ORC poll, Oct. 14-17, 2015