As a follow up to John’s post, this graph from the 2000 election comes from a paper I wrote with Lee Sigelman on perceptions of campaign negativity. It shows a sizable downward shift in the percentage of Americans who viewed Bush’s campaign more negatively than Gore’s campaign. The shift occurred on the eve of the second debate; presumably because media previews of the second debate looked back dimly on Gore’s performance in the first debate. We found no effects of actual changes in the number of negative statements by either campaign. Expect a fierce battle to control the media narrative following tomorrow’s debate.
ps. as an aside: We should be careful not to suggest that debate performance doesn’t influence the media narrative. It does. But as John’s post notes, the effect of debates filtered by the media will differ from what the effect would have been if it had not been filtered.