Donald Trump on the campaign trail in Wisconsin
Donald Trump on the campaign trail in Wisconsin Reuters

During Sunday’s raucous second presidential debate, which media outlets described as a “scorched-earth” debate and the “Ugliest Debate Ever,” both candidates unleashed a torrent of accusations and personal attacks, worsening an already toxic political debate.

Gone was the traditional handshake between the two candidates at the opening of the debate – a harbinger of the knock-down, no-holds barred slugfest that followed.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed Trump’s campaign was “exploding,” lashing out angrily that “I know you are into big diversion, anything to avoid talking about your campaign and the way Republicans are leaving you.”

Trump, for his part, threatened to have Clinton investigated and imprisoned for her improper handling of classified material on a private server, telling her “you would go to jail.”

The Republican nominee said he was surprised Clinton’s former Democratic rival Bernie Sanders had embraced “the devil” – and endorsed Clinton.

“I was surprised to see him sign up with the devil.”

The first set of scientific polls suggest Clinton won the debate – but by a significantly narrower margin than the first on September 27th.

According to the CNN/ORC post-debate snap poll, 57% of those who watched the debate believed Clinton won, while 34% say Trump won.

By comparison, after the first debate the same poll showed 62% saying Clinton won, compared to 27% who said Trump came out on top.

CNN noted that respondents were debate-watchers – and were not screened for likely voters, acknowledging that this likely produces a sample that is more Democratic than the voting electorate.

Nevertheless, respondents largely believed Trump beat expectations, with 63% saying the Republican performed better than they had expected, while 60% say Clinton failed to meet expectations.

A second poll, conducted by YouGov, showed Trump making even bigger gains and pulling in to a virtual tie with Clinton.

While the poll showed 57% of viewers believe Clinton won the first debate compared to just 30% who felt Trump won, that 27-point margin was cut to just 5 in Sunday’s debate.

According to the YouGov poll, 47% of registered voters believe Clinton won – a 10-point drop from the last debate – compared to 42% who said Trump won, a 12-point improvement.

A focus group organized by Republican pollster Frank Luntz suggested the debate may give Trump a significant boost. Luntz noted that participants were generally critical of Clinton’s performance, calling it “disingenuous”, “frustrated”, and “not worth my vote.”

Of the 30 participants in the focus group, 9 were Trump supporters prior to the debate, 8 were Clinton supporters, and 13 were independents. After the debate, however, the number of Trump supporters doubled to 18, while Clinton’s was halved to just 4.

The vast majority – 21 of the 30 – say Trump won the debate, compared to 9 who said Clinton had the greater impact.

“Tonight was so significant,” Luntz told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, “that he [Trump] is now back in the race.”