The US presidential debate is a big event that most American voters feel excited about every four years. It sets the stage for the candidates to defend their ideas on the country’s on-going issues, past experience in office if applicable, and argue for their projects in order to earn Americans’ support.
The US elections debate is not something required by law, It has only become a campaign tradition since 1976. Candidates have all the right to refuse or accept to debate their opponents. In 1980, Jimmy Carter declined the request to debate Ronald Reagan and John B Anderson nine days before the elections believing that a three-way debate would have strengthened Anderson’s campaign. Ronald Reagan performed very well in the first debate against Anderson, and this helped propel Reagan into a landslide victory.
The elections debates are high stakes for the candidates, especially when thinking about how the effect of their debate performance may have on the outcome of the election or the public image of the candidates in the mind of the voters. However, we often think that debates serve the interest of voters and usually change people’s minds, but to what extent can we say that this is true?
A summarized answer is… Hmm, it depends.
According to Dr. Mitchell McKinney, who is an international expert on presidential debates and has been studying debates since the late 1980s, the factors that must be in play to magnify the importance of the debates are:
1/_When the race between the candidates appears close enough.
2/_When enough voters remain undecided about who to vote for.
Do debates really matter? Do they change the outcome of the elections?
“We found that as high as 90 to 95% of all debate viewers come to the debate, particularly at this stage in this long election, as we’re just now weeks, days before the election with their minds made up and particularly in a polarized electorate, as we have here in the US committed to one candidate or the other, and those minds typically aren’t changed.” Said Dr. Mitchell Mckinney
In American Politics, the term “Swing State” and “battleground state” refer to a state that can be reasonably won by either the Democratic or Republican presidential candidate by a swing in votes. The voters from these states can also be “The persuadable”. The condition that governs the battleground states are usually different in comparison with other states, and that is usually noticed in polls.
In the 2020 US Elections, for example, the polls currently show that Joe Biden has a modest national leads in some states with perhaps five or six points. However, when you drill down to the battleground states, you see a number of those swing states with perhaps Biden or Trump up by only one point or half a point like Florida or North Carolina. Therefore, when the debate is close enough, and there is enough undecided voters, the debate becomes very consequential in the outcome of the elections.