Glancing through J. Sides’ Wash Monthly piece, I see at the end he calls the 2000 debate “a clearer case of a small, but consequential, debate effect” (that may not be a verbatim quote but it’s very close). Isn’t it ironic, for lack of a better word, that Gore might well have been hurt b/c he interrupted GWB once or twice and sighed a couple of times? Clearly, if a candidate sighs he’s not qualified to be president. No way. Btw see also the one comment (as of this writing) left by someone at the Wash Monthly site.
I remember the pride the League of Women Voters used to take in the debates when it was the sponsoring (or co-sponsoring) organization. I suppose in a way it may be just as well that some of those involved in organizing the debates (from ’76 on) are probably no longer alive and don’t have to read the political science research showing that the debates are a waste of time.
Thanks for this post. We’re hosting the VP debate this year at my institution and it’s good to see more political science research being publicized that combats the media narrative on the effect of presidential debates.
It isn’t necessarily the case that presidential debates don’t matter, just that they don’t affect the outcome of the election. It is very likely they help reinforce people’s partisan predispositions in advance of the election, or serve to educate some of the public about candidate’s policy stances.
Jim: Maybe so, but the “game changer” trope that appears in so much commentary about debates depends on their changing the outcome of the election.
While VP debates would seem even less meaningful, I wonder if anybody ever looked at those? I’m thinking of the 2004 debate in particular, although the ’88 VP debate created the most memorable quote of the campaign.
I found this article highly interesting. Presidential debates clearly have a much smaller impact than many other aspects of campaigns, such as total money raised and relevant political views. However in a close election the difference in candidates charisma and speaking skills could be the difference in who wins an election, especially considering how many people watch political elections (about 53 million in 2008). It’s also important to think about how a single mistake in a debate today could be much more detrimental to a candidates electability than it would have been 20 or 30 years ago, because of how quickly and wide spread news is distributed on the Internet. This article also made me consider which aspects of debates are the most influential on the general public. Is it the way people look, or the points they make? What matters most, the content of a candidate’s answer, or the way in which they word their answers?