Most Americans support a virtual presidential debate

Jamie BallardData Journalist
October 09, 2020, 6:30 PM UTC

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced earlier this week that the second presidential debate on October 15 will be held virtually, to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.  

poll of more than 7,000 Americans finds that most (63%) people support the decision. The vast majority of Democrats (87%) and six in ten Independents (61%) approve of this decision. Republicans don’t. Just 31% are in support, while most (59%) oppose the choice to take the debate online.  

The fact that most Americans are happy with the debate change may ultimately be moot, as President Donald Trump has declared in an interview “I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That's not what debating is all about.”  

Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, suggested that the commission was making the debate virtual in order to “shield Biden from another shellacking like he got two weeks ago.”  

Americans tend not to agree with this analysis. Close to half (47%) of Americans don’t think that the decision to have a virtual debate would benefit either candidate more than the other. 

Nevertheless, one-third (33%) do believe a virtual format would benefit Joe Biden more, including almost half (48%) of Republicans. Only 6% of Americans think the change in format would favor Trump. 

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Methodology: YouGov asked 7,486 US adults on October 8-9, 2020: “The Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the second presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden will be held virtually rather than in-person. Do you support or oppose this change?” and“Do you think the decision to have a virtual debate will be more of a benefit to one candidate than the other?”  The surveys were carried out online. Data were weighted on age, education, gender, race, and Census region to be nationally representative of adults in the United States. The margin of error is approximately 1% for the overall sample.