CNN Poll: Bernie Sanders Gains on Hillary Clinton After First Debate


CNN’s coverage of the first Democratic presidential debate drew both praise and controversy across the political spectrum. Many people felt that Anderson Cooper did a great job asking tough questions of the candidates and sticking to the issues. Others criticized CNN for declaring Hillary Clinton the winner of the debate, despite online polls and focus groups (their own and other media outlets’) showing Bernie Sanders the winner. Candidate Jim Webb felt that the debate was rigged in favor of Sanders and Clinton (the two frontrunners did dominate in minutes spoken).

Political observers have been waiting for some scientific polling to gage the debate’s impact upon the Democratic electorate. CNN’s poll found that a majority of Democrats felt that Hillary Clinton won the debate, but it is Bernie Sanders who gained a boost in polling numbers. From CNN:

With the first Democratic debate in the books, a new CNN/ORC poll finds most who watched think Hillary Clinton had the best performance of the night, but her strong showing hasn’t boosted her standing in the race for the party’s nomination.

Clinton stands at 45% in the race for the Democratic nomination, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders behind her at 29%. Vice President Joe Biden, who is considering a run for presidency and did not participate in last week’s debate, follows at 18%.


Compared with pre-debate polling, Sanders’ support is up five points since mid-September, but no other candidate showed significant change.

It is interesting that a majority of those polled by CNN felt that Clinton was the winner, but Sanders got the boost. CNN’s poll also found that voters preferred Sanders a bit more than Clinton when faced against Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. The Vermont Senator leads Trump by 9% while the former Secretary of State leads Trump by 5%.

If I’m to speculate why Sanders got a boost in the polls among those polled by CNN, when a majority apparently felt that Clinton won the debate, I would guess that many Democrats weren’t very familiar with Sanders, so he got a boost from just an increase in name recognition, along with the fact that his policies are certain to appeal to many in the Democratic Party base. Additionally, polls show that many voters don’t find Clinton trustworthy, so despite her formidable debating skills and extensive knowledge of the issues, her answers still fall flat to many because she seems inauthentic, in contrast to Sanders.

One big positive for marijuana law reform advocates, Bernie Sanders didn’t hurt himself one bit by staking a strong position in support of marijuana legalization. After taking what many political pundits would consider a risky proposition, focus groups and the online community loved Sanders’ debate performance and he received a boost in the polls, demonstrating the mainstream appeal of cannabis legalization, or the fact that voters don’t consider it a big deal anymore. Sanders’ success nationally, win or lose, has greatly impacted the national debate around cannabis legalization the greater Drug War. He has increased the likelihood that candidates across the nation will understand that reforming the failed War on Drugs is not only the right thing to do, but is also very good politics.



Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.