Journalists and pundits say Hillary Clinton clearly won Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate, but voter polls and focus groups conducted immediately after the event showed a different answer.

Clinton managed to deflect questions about her email controversy and policy positions she has recently flipped on, but it was Sanders who got the biggest applause line of the night. "The American people are tired of hearing about your damn emails," Sanders said in defense of Clinton, before denouncing the news media for covering the controversy rather than economic and foreign policy issues he said were more important to the middle class.

The press said that comment signalled that Democrats wouldn't be attacking Clinton for the email scandal, which would clear the decks for her to win the Democratic nomination. But a focus group of a "cross-section" of Florida voters on Fox News, conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, showed that Bernie Sanders was the night's victor. Several of the voters described Sanders as "strong," "straightforward" and "for the people."

Another focus group conducted by the left-leaning, millennial-focused Fusion network also showed that Sanders "was the most popular candidate among a group of young registered Democrats."

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