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We Asked Some of Our Supporters What They Thought of the First GOP Presidential Debate, and the Results Spoke Volumes 

GOP presidential candidates raising their hands behind podiums at the GOP debate.
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We watched the first GOP debate, and we certainly had our own thoughts about how it went. But we wanted to know what our members and supporters thought, so we asked them. The responses we got ranged from clever commentary to insightful looks at just how concerned we should all be about the rhetoric displayed on the debate stage.  

Nearly Half of Respondents Watched the Debate Live 

Our members are as engaged as ever because we all know what’s at stake in this election. Even a significant portion of those who didn’t watch the debate live, either because they didn’t have access to Fox News or because they just couldn’t bring themselves to tune in, caught up on the highlights after the fact. As the election cycle heats up, we look forward to seeing the same dedication during future debates and at the polls. 

The Shock Factor Was High 

We all expected some bizarre moments from this debate, and the candidates definitely delivered. Some of the biggest doozies our respondents caught were: 

  • The hypocrisy of candidates claiming to support law and order while also opposing accountability for Trump 
  • Declaring Trump was the best president in history 
  • Candidates raising their hands to show they would support Trump if he became the nominee – even after a felony conviction  
  • That a candidate called climate change a “hoax”  

While all these moments live rent-free in our heads after this debate, one of the most telling pieces of data we collected from our respondents had more to do with what doesn’t shock them than what does. Forty percent of our respondents agreed with the statement “Nothing the GOP does or says shocks me anymore.” That says a lot about where we’re at in the history of political discourse and how we’re all feeling going into 2024. 

Everyone Came Off as Extreme, But One Candidate Stood Out 

The candidates didn’t hold back when it came to wild claims and dog whistles to their base. More than 30 percent of our respondents felt everyone was equally extreme, but more than 40 percent saw Vivek Ramaswamy, businessman and “unapologetic nationalist,” as the most shocking of the pack.  

From saying we should stop supporting Ukraine, to declaring the government pays women to stay single, to urging increased use of fossil fuels, Ramaswamy painted quite the picture of how some on the Far Right think.  

Trump’s Absence Made a Statement, We’re Just Not Sure What that Statement Is Yet 

Trump had made it abundantly clear that he wouldn’t show up to the debate, even without his recent fourth indictment. And even the candidates who did show up seemed to acknowledge he’s the current frontrunner. Since we couldn’t count on any Trump sound bites during the debate, we wanted to know whether our respondents thought his choice to skip would help or hurt him in the race for the GOP nomination.  

Most respondents (60 percent) said it’s too soon to tell, which is fair. So much is still up in the air, including whether he’s even eligible to run or whether his growing mountain of legal troubles will stop GOP primary voters from voting for him. But 20 percent of our respondents felt Trump not showing up to the debate will actually help him with his base. Whether he thinks he’s above the debate, thinks he has the nomination already locked in, or just had too much going on in Georgia, Trump’s absence left a vacuum the other candidates were clamoring to fill.  

Thanks to Our Respondents, Members, and Supporters 

We’re so grateful to our members who shared their thoughts with us. We can’t do the work of standing up to the Far Right and defending democracy without you.  

To stay up to date on all our work at People For and to be included in future surveys, sign up to become a member. We’ve all seen what could be in store for us if the Far Right has their way, so let’s work together to ensure Truth, Justice, and the American Way are preserved.