THE FIRST presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was one of the most keenly awaited events of this year’s election campaign. Alas for those who tuned in, it was deeply disappointing. A post-debate poll from CBS News showed that 83% of debate-watchers said the tone of the match was “negative”. When asked how the debate made them feel, the most popular answer, at 69%, was “annoyed”; only 17% felt “informed” after the slugfest. Mr Trump took every opportunity to interrupt both his opponent and Chris Wallace, the moderator and a Fox News host. Although Mr Biden offered moments of substantive discourse, they are likely to be forgotten amid the insults and name-calling.
The chaotic event will probably do little to sway undecided voters. Debates rarely influence election outcomes, even in tight races. This year voters appear less inclined than ever to change their minds. Still, those who tuned in to the debate seemed to think Mr Biden came out on top. According to the CBS poll, viewers were more likely to say the debate made them think better of Mr Biden (38%) than worse of him (32%). For the president these numbers were flipped, with far fewer thinking better of the president after the event (24%) than worse of him (42%).
Political punters seem to agree. On Betfair Exchange, a betting website, the odds of a Biden victory improved, if only slightly, after the clash. On September 28th, the day before the debate, bettors assigned a 56% chance to a Biden win. By September 30th, the day after the debate, that number had increased to 59% (see chart). Traders appear to be more pessimistic about the Democratic candidate this year than in the past two presidential contests, perhaps because the property developer turned reality-television star so defied the odds four years ago.
The Economist’s own election-forecasting model shows Mr Biden with an eight-point lead in national polls and an 87% chance of winning the election on November 3rd. There are two more debates scheduled before election day. Mr Trump’s hopes of closing the gap with Mr Biden seem to hinge on his adopting a more presidential demeanour. Of course, four years ago, he triumphed by doing precisely the opposite.
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