By Dr. Bill Myers, Director of Public Policy
On Tuesday October 13th, the Democratic Party held its first presidential debate. The media conversation quickly turned to an analysis of debate performance with the goal of answering the big question: Who won?
CNN asked a group of undecided voters in Nevada who won and their answer was Bernie Sanders. Fox News asked Florida Democrats and again the answer was Bernie Sanders. Fusion asked millennial voters in Miami and Sanders again triumphed. Slate’s online poll registered a clear win for Sanders as well logging an impressive 66% of the vote.
It would appear then that Bernie Sanders scored an improbable victory over the presumed frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, and yet media across the country anointed Clinton, not Sanders, with the debate crown. That narrative has come under question, however, because of the apparent disconnect between the people watching the debate and the journalists covering Tuesday night’s event. However, an NBC/Survey Monkey poll, conducted in the days after the debate, asked Democratic voters who did the best job during the debate and the results were much different than the others: 56% - Hillary Clinton, 33% - Bernie Sanders.
Now that the national media has had its say, it’s important to hear how the candidates and the debate were received locally. The Hillsborough County Young Democrats (HCYD) sponsored a Democratic presidential debate watch party at the Aloft Hotel in downtown Tampa as part of an effort to engage 18-40 year olds in a conversation about the direction of our region, state and country. As part of that effort, Dr. William Myers, the Director of Public Policy for the HCYDs, asked debate watchers to share their views via a snap poll. 
Similar, to the focus groups empaneled by CNN, Fox News and Fusion, the HCYD Snap Poll identified Bernie Sanders as the debate’s winner with 54%, Hillary Clinton with 43% and Martin O’Malley with 3%. However, the HCYD Snap Poll also revealed an important impact of the debate on support for both Sanders and Clinton. Prior to the debate, Sanders had more support than Clinton by a 2 to 1 margin among HCYD debate watchers. After the debate, Sanders support dropped, Clinton’s increased as did support for former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. According to those who participated in the HCYD Snap Poll, Sanders may have won the debate, but Hillary Clinton’s performance garnered her more support.
It will be important for each of the candidates going forward to both build and maintain their number of supporters. If the HCYD Snap Poll is any indication, both Sanders and Clinton, will be facing similar challenges.
Which candidate won tonight’s debate?
Prior to tonight’s debate, which candidate did you support the most?
After tonight’s debate, which candidate do you support the most?