World News – USA – US presidential election: why the great debate could be the key to entering the White House







Claire Williamson on Twitter

They have been a centerpiece of presidential election campaigns for over half a century, producing many memorable and iconic moments

But as President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden prepare to clash tonight in their last televised debate ahead of the November 3 poll, what impact could this have on the American people?

And while what the contestants said has been largely forgotten, their clash is remembered for Nixon’s visible sweaty appearance alongside his more composed rival. Those who listened to the radio thought Nixon won – but those who watched TV gave it to Kennedy


Dr Mitchell S McKinney, a national and international expert on presidential debates, who has been studying them since the late 1980s, says this is what made the format disappear for some time

He said: « The debates drifted off a bit until we got to 1976 And it was mainly because of Richard Nixon’s feeling that it was his performance in the debates and viewers seeing him side by side with John Kennedy who really led to his defeat in that 1960 election »

He added: « And sometimes the candidates refused Jimmy Carter refused until just nine days before the election with Ronald Reagan, who put in a very strong debate performance and went on to win in a landslide »

Sharp exchanges have become famous moments In 1980 Reagan joked « I’m paying for this microphone » after it was turned off in a debate

Four years later, facing Democratic opponent Walter Mondale, when asked if at 73 he was too old to be president, he replied: « I will not make age an issue of this campaign I will not exploit, for political ends, the youth and inexperience of my adversary « 

Sometimes saying nothing at all created a stir in itself – when Al Gore was mocked for his continued sighs during his 2000 debate with George W Bush

Perhaps the most memorable exchange of all occurred during the 1988 Vice Presidential Debate, when Republican Dan Quayle was humiliated after a misjudged attempt to draw inspiration from the legacy Kennedy


Comparing his political life to that of Kennedy, the sharp response of his Democratic opponent Lloyd Bentsen was a « drop the mic » moment before the hour He replied: « I served with Jack Kennedy I knew Jack Kennedy Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine Senator, you are not Jack Kennedy « 

In the last election, Trump and Hillary Clinton broke audience records – around 84 million people watched their first debate

The current race for the White House between President Trump and Mr. Biden saw one of the most chaotic clashes, as each launched personal attacks and talked about the other

Dr McKinney said debates have different roles and can have a big impact on the small part of the indecisive electorate.One of the key things for voters is that debates show the candidates in a place where they do not « control the messages »

He added that it was also one of the only times the main party candidates gathered, side by side, during the long presidential campaign.

« On a level playing field, in a general election debate, we would expect to hear from candidates in a debate as well, and voters tend to think of the timing of the debate as a useful and credible form of campaign communication, as opposed to the candidates ‘advertisements, as opposed to the convention candidates’ controlled speeches, or their stupid speeches, or perhaps their media appearances on partisan media or on whatever media network they choose  »

And it is this lack of control over the narrative that voters attribute to the fact that this is a « credible form of information »

He said: « Now this credibility that voters emphasize in the message of the debate, I think, is largely driven by the candidates not in control of this message Candidates show up without notes, without teleprompter, without their helpers around them.They don’t know what questions are going to be asked of them And so, at that point, voters see how they answer a reporter’s question, how they respond to each other when attacked

« I think this leads to this notion of getting the actual, or genuine, candidate who, although there is some discussion of the issue and there is a problem to be learned from the debate, the more great form of learning or the impression that debates leave is about the character or image of the candidates about how they react to each other, how they react, how they deal with attacks And that voters find a characteristic useful debates « 

Dr McKinney added: « Certainly when we began the debates about the size of the American population in 1960, the debates had great appeal, great reach. About 80% of the adult American population saw or listened to at least one of those Kennedy-Nixon debates « Interest declined slightly in the mid-90s debates between Bill Clinton and Republican challenger Bob Dole, but interest has returned

He said: « Eighty-four million people in that first Clinton-Trump debate four years ago set the all-time record

« This viewership actually brings us closer to things like the Superbowl audience It was a political event Of course many viewers of partisan voters can use debates, like the Superbowl event, to listen and encourage selected candidates »

Dr McKinney says about 90-95% of viewers come to the debate with the decision made – and usually doesn’t change

Most importantly, he says they are the very smallest slice of the « undecided » or « persuadable » in battlefield states where elections are won and lost

He said: « The debates have shown their ability to reach this very small slice of the undecided, unengaged, persuadable

« And of that group, 3% to 4% consistently will come out of viewing a debate, again 3% or 4% of 87 million, claiming that they are now committed, now they know who they are for. going to vote And one thing we know about viewers is that they are more likely to show up and vote if they want to spend the time watching a debate

« So when the race is close enough again, in the battlefield states, and there are enough undecided voters, then the debate, I think, can have consequences, even consequences. on the result of an election « 


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