Mike Pence scored a narrow win over Tim Kaine in the vice presidential debate Tuesday night, according to a CNN/ORC instant poll, with 48% of voters who watched the debate saying Pence did the better job while 42% think Kaine had the best night.
With two relatively unknown politicians taking the stage, those watching seemed more impressed by Pence than Kaine. About two-thirds of debate-watchers said Pence’s performance was better than they expected, just 14% said he did worse than they thought he would. Reviews of Kaine tilted toward the negative, with 43% saying he did worse than they expected and 38% saying he outperformed their expectations.
The debate itself focused more on the candidates at the top of the ticket than the two men on stage. Most debate watchers said Kaine did the better job defending Hillary Clinton, 58%, while just 35% thought Pence better defended Donald Trump.
Still, 29% of debate watchers said what they saw Tuesday made them more apt to vote for Trump, compared with 18% who said it made them more likely to back Clinton. Most debate watchers, 53%, said their vote was not swayed by Tuesday’s face off. After the first Clinton-Trump debate last week, 34% said it made them more apt to vote Clinton, 18% Trump.
Kaine’s performance fell short of Clinton’s on several other measures in the poll as well. Tuesday’s debate watchers were split on which candidate expressed his views more clearly, 47% named each, a metric on which Clinton soundly beat Trump in last week’s presidential debate.
And 48% said Kaine had a better understanding of the issues, edging out Pence at 41%. Clinton topped Trump by a better than 2-to-1 margin on that score after their first debate.
Kaine and Pence emerge from the debate with near identical and net-positive favorability ratings, but Kaine appears to have taken a hit among those who watched. Pence, meanwhile, boosted his numbers somewhat.
Pence was largely seen as the more likeable candidate on the stage, 53% to 37%, and nearly all of the movement in Kaine’s favorability rating post-debate was toward the negative side: His unfavorable rating rose from 28% among this same group of debate watchers when they were interviewed pre-debate to 40% after, while his favorability number held about even at 55%. For Pence, his favorability rating bumped up 7 points to 57%, from 50% pre-debate. His unfavorable numbers held about even 40%.
Both men are broadly judged qualified to take over the office of president if needed, 77% say Pence is qualified, 70% that Kaine is. Most voters who watched Tuesday night said Kaine’s positions on the issues are about right ideologically (57%) while 36% see him as too liberal and 5% too conservative. Assessing Pence’s positions, about half, 49%, think he’s about right, 46% too conservative and just 3% too liberal.
The CNN/ORC post-debate poll includes interviews with 472 registered voters who watched the October 4 vice presidential debate. Results among debate-watchers have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. Respondents were originally interviewed as part of a September 28-October 2 telephone survey of a random sample of Americans, and indicated they planned to watch the debate and would be willing to be re-interviewed when it was over.