During the first Republican presidential debate earlier this month, all hell broke loose after an exchange on the “war on women” between debate moderator Megyn Kelly and contender Donald Trump. The furor over Kelly’s snark, and Trump’s audacity, boiled over into a weeks-long debate between those convinced that Kelly had wrongfully attacked Trump, and those who felt like Kelly’s question about Trump’s tone toward women was fair.
So, who won?
I’m not ready to call this for either side yet (there’s still plenty of time for either party to reload) but polling data suggests that as of right now, Donald Trump has come out on top over Fox News.
Trump is winning his fight with Megyn Kelly. When we last polled her in December of 2013 her favorability with Republicans nationally was 44/9. Her favorability is in a similar place now at 42% but her negatives have shot up to 20%, largely because she’s at 20/43 with Trump’s supporters.
Trumps supporters are angry about the way the debate exchange went down, and it shows.
Meanwhile Trump’s popularity with GOP voters has just continued to grow. Last month before the debate his favorability with them was 48/39, now it’s improved to 56/30.
Not only are voters not particularly fussed about The Donald’s politically incorrect words, they’re being drawn in by those words. Is this shocking? Not necessarily; time and again, conservative voters have expressed both a frustration with typical Republican candidates, and a desire for more conservative candidates to rise to the top by challenging the status quo. Trump is neither typical, nor does he embrace the template that has defined previous Republican presidential candidates.
Fox News as a whole isn’t suffering for the feud though- in February we found 66% of Republicans said they trusted the network, and now we find 66% say they have a favorable opinion of it.
So, both Fox and Megyn Kelly’s approvals are steady, but we have a growing block of voters who have become vocally unhappy about the network’s treatment of an extremely popular, extremely visible candidate. Still, the network continues to enjoy favorables that haven’t been moved by what went down during and after the debate, so perhaps the countermeasures taken by Ailes and his team served as a levee against the onslaught of criticism.
The takeaway? Trump can take care of himself when it comes to combating a media narrative—but his influence is largely focused on the GOP voter base, which is exactly where he needs it to be.
Just as a reminder, this is how the initial exchange during the August debate went down [emphasis mine]:
MEGYN KELLY: ‘Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women. You’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals.” Your Twitter account –’
DONALD TRUMP: ‘Only Rosie O’Donnell.’ (APPLAUSE)
MEGYN KELLY: ‘No, it wasn’t. Your Twitter account –’
DONALD TRUMP: ‘Thank you.’
MEGYN KELLY: ‘For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell.’
DONALD TRUMP: ‘Yes, I’m sure it was.’
MEGYN KELLY: ‘Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?’
TRUMP: ‘I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. (APPLAUSE) I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody. And frankly, what I say, and oftentimes it’s fun, it’s kidding. We have a good time. What I say is what I say. And honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.
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