The overwhelming media and political consensus was that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won Tuesday night’s Democratic primary debate.
Clinton was crisp and polished, making almost no mistakes throughout the evening. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), her chief rival, was at times flustered, especially while addressing gun control early on.
But a focus group of Democratic voters, conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, could undermine the takeaway that Clinton won.
In a brief Fox News segment, Luntz started off by asking the participants who was supporting Clinton at the start of the debate. About half raised their hands. He then asked who was still supporting Clinton — only a few said they were.
Instead, the bulk of the group said Sanders won. And their favourite moment was the same back-and-forth that many pundits said delivered Clinton her biggest win: Sanders declaring that he was sick of hearing about her “damn” email controversy rather than skewering her for it.
“I thought that was very respectable,” one Democrat told Luntz.
“It’s just such a non-issue. And I’m glad that he addressed it like that and got it out of the way,” said another.
“What I liked is that he was stronger ont he issue that she was, which scared me,” said a third.
Republicans, eager to ding the front-runner, jumped at the opportunity to push the narrative that Clinton actually lost the debate.
The national Republican Party emailed reporters the three focus groups as well as internet-search and social-media analytics to argue that Sanders was the big winner. Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short pointed out that the media said Clinton won most of her 2008 debates against now-President Barack Obama too.
“Hillary Clinton may be the strongest debater on the stage,” Short wrote to reporters, “but it was Bernie Sanders that won the hearts and interest of Democrat voters.”
Watch the Luntz focus group below:
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.