Frank Luntz discovered the third presidential debate made people dislike both candidates

Hillary Clinton was "presidential" but "criminal politician." Donald Trump was "blowhard," but "improved"

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 20, 2016 1:10PM (EDT)

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton waves to the audience as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump puts his notes away after the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas. (AP)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton waves to the audience as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump puts his notes away after the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas. (AP)

Republican pollster Frank Luntz held a panel of undecided voters to watch Wednesday night’s presidential debate. His discovery? They really, really hate their options.

When voters were asked to sum up the candidates in one word, Trump received descriptions like “improved,” “struggled,” “blowhard,” “inadequate,” “passionate,” “P. T. Barnum” and “rude.”

For Clinton, the terms included “presidential, “competent, “snoozefest,” “criminal actress,” “more believable” and “politician.”

More than half of them raised their hands when asked if they felt Washington had forgotten their voices.

When Luntz showed a clip of what he perceived as Clinton’s high point (her response to a question about the Supreme Court), the consensus among the undecided voters was that she was “polished.” Similarly, when he showed Trump blaming Clinton for losing $6 billion as Secretary of State (a claim that has been debunked), it caused them to refer to Clinton as “untruthful” and to question her stewardship of the State Department.

Overall, when asked how many of them had a positive opinion of both Clinton and Trump, only three raised their hands; when asked how many had a negative opinion of both, the remaining two dozen or so hands instantly shot up.

At the end of his informal survey, Luntz asked the undecided voters who they believed had won the debate, with 14 choosing Trump and 12 choosing Clinton. This contradicted the post-debate surveys conducted by CNN/ORC, which had Clinton beating Trump 52 to 39, and by YouGov, which had Clinton winning by a 49 to 39 margin. At the same time, Luntz’s group was consistent with the general public view that has rendered Clinton and Trump as the most unpopular presidential candidates in modern history, albeit for very different reasons.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012, was a guest on Fox Business in 2019, repeatedly warned of Trump's impending refusal to concede during the 2020 election, spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2021, was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022 and appeared on NPR in 2023. His diverse interests are reflected in his interviews including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), director Jason Reitman ("The Front Runner"), inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, World War II historian Joshua Levine (consultant to "Dunkirk"), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), seismologist John Vidale, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa