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Not even Trump’s Reddit army could swing the third debate in his favor

Trump posted to Reddit before the debate, but that wasn't enough to sway post-debate results.


Austin Powell


Posted on Oct 20, 2016   Updated on May 25, 2021, 6:30 pm CDT

Minutes before the start of the third and final presidential debate, Donald Trump took to Reddit to accuse the “Corrupt Clintons” of committing voter fraud. Ironically, his message inspired his followers online to once more do the very same thing to post-debate polls. 

Reddit’s r/The_Donald is a grassroots meeting place for some of Trump’s most fervent supporters. There are more than 236,000 subscribers, or “centipedes,” as they refer to themselves, who peddle conspiracy theories and rabidly rally around every bit of news that appears to support the Republican presidential candidate. 

The community conspired to swing instant reaction polls in Trump’s favor after the first two presidential debates, including those hosted by Time, Fortune, and CNBC, among others. Those polls were not scientific—as a Fox News executive clarified in an internal staff memo. They didn’t confirm that the participants were legal residents of the U.S. or of voting age—or even that they’re human for that matter (most of them polls could easily be botted). 

But those still polls matter. The debates are as much about public perception and posturing as they are about political substance and facts. They help frame the larger narrative and lend credibility to a candidate’s push towards the presidency. Every small win helps. 

That’s why Trump was so eager to claim victory after the first debate based on those polls:  

And that’s why Trump has continued to engage with his supporters on Reddit, the main force behind attempts to sway poll results. He posted to r/The_Donald before the second presidential debate and returned to the fore again Wednesday evening. 

Screengrab via Reddit

My Deplorables — This is it. The FINAL DEBATE.

The Corrupt Clintons are doing everything they can to stop us.
They are committing voter fraud, the rigged media is ignoring the facts, and they are telling lie after lie.

It shouldn’t be a surprise with these people. I am going to DRAIN THE SWAMP.

Loopholes are going to be closed. Term limits are going to be in place. Lobbyists are going to be stopped.

AND people like Crooked Hillary Clinton will no longer get rich off the backs of the hard working Americans that built this country.

We will WIN. We will MAGA.

After the third and final debate concluded, there were more than 31,000 “healthy patriots” on Reddit, where links to non-scientific polls were quickly aggregated. 

Screengrab via Reddit

Screengrab via Reddit

People were encouraged to not only vote but to help make #TrumpWon trend on Twitter:

Screengrab via Reddit

However, Trump’s Reddit army was less successful, at least initially, than in its previous two campaigns. A poll for unapologetically pro-Trump site Breitbart—the publication’s executive chairman, Steve Bannon, temporarily stepped down to be CEO of the Trump campaign—mentioned several times in the Reddit threads, favored Hillary Clinton.  

Screengrab via Breitbart

Trump took to Twitter late last night to claim victory in the final debate, based on the polls mentioned in the Reddit threads. 

Both of the scientific post-debate polls, which interviewed registered voters and were conducted by YouGov and CNN/ORC, however, reported that Clinton won the final debate.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Trump’s post-debate tweet. 

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*First Published: Oct 20, 2016, 7:56 am CDT