What Americans think about the 2020 presidential debate moderators

Linley SandersSenior Data Journalist
September 03, 2020, 6:15 PM UTC

The non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced the moderators for a series of meetings between Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and incumbent President Donald Trump.  

The first presidential debate will be hosted by Fox News’ Chris Wallace on September 29 in Cleveland, Ohio. A snap poll conducted by YouGov found the “Fox News Sunday” host is the most widely recognized moderator with about three-fourths (77%) of voters saying they know who he is.  

Wallace is a frequent target of President Trump’s attacks on Twitter, but nonetheless, the anchor has been granted several high-profile, one-on-one interviews during the incumbent president’s first term. He’s also no stranger to moderating presidential debates — he oversaw the third match-up between Trump and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.  

In addition to being well-known, more registered voters hold a positive opinion (45%) of Wallace than a negative one (22%). Democrats are more likely to have a positive opinion of him (52% vs 14%) than a negative one, as are political Independents (50% vs 13%). Republicans are split on Wallace: 35 percent have a favorable opinion of him compared to 38 percent who see him negatively. 

Further, Wallace appears to have the broad trust of the public in a way that crosses partisan lines.  

About half of registered voters (45%) trust Wallace to treat Trump and Biden fairly during the first presidential debate with Democrats (48%), Independents (46%), and Republicans (42%) being similarly likely to trust Wallace. Republicans (27%) are slightly more likely than Democrats (23%) to distrust that Wallace will treat the candidates fairly. 

The subsequent moderators have much lower name recognition among registered voters. About half of Americans know the second debate moderator, Kristen Welker (48%), and fewer than half recognize the third debate moderator, Steve Scully (44%). About two in five know Susan Page (42%), the moderator of the vice-presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris

Registered voters who are familiar with each moderator generally trust them to treat the candidates fairly in the upcoming debates. Most registered voters who are familiar with Wallace trust him to be fair (55%) compared to a quarter (24%) who do not trust him. Two in five (40%) registered voters familiar with Welker believe she will be fair, compared to 38 percent of those familiar with Scully. One-third of those familiar with Page believes she will be fair, though voters were just as likely to not have an opinion (28%).

Related: Comparing Trump and Obama in the final stretches of their first terms 

Methodology: This article is based on a flash poll of 1,200 registered voters surveyed via YouGov Direct on September 2, 2020 between 3:15 p.m. and 4:44 p.m. This YouGov Direct Poll was weighted according to age, gender, race, education, and 2016 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±3.5%       

Image: Getty