Debate may have little impact on election outcome

The foreign-policy-based presidential debate Monday night was the final debate in the course of a month-long series of candidate exchanges. The candidates were asked questions about issues from education to Iran. These are all issues deemed important to the American people. But the question is: How much of an effect to debates have on voters?

Television ratings are high and social media explodes during every debate. The day after each debate, the only topic covering the front pages is how much the polls were affected by the debate performances.

This season’s final presidential debate aired Monday in the Walter Cronkite School’s First Amendment Forum. Many students who attended said the debate would not affect their vote. (Alexis Macklin/DD)

But when former Washington Post executive editor Len Downie spoke after the debate to a group of students, he offered a very different perspective when he asked how many people thought the debate influenced their vote.

“Not many,” Downie said as he looked at the lack of audience response.

Downie discussed the media’s coverage of elections and cited the “horse-race coverage” of campaigns. The media uses polls to report who is winning and who is losing after each debate because they focus on competitiveness, Downie said.

“This is something I don’t see pollsters poll very much about: to what extent the debates are changing people’s choices,” Downie said.

Most people in the audience at the Cronkite School had already made up their mind about their vote prior to the first debate. Downie said this could be indicative of the nation as a whole. That being said, a great number of people are still watching these debates.

“I mostly watched the debate because I do follow and I do keep up with everything that’s going on,” said Vondalynn Dias, a journalism senior. “Some of the things that they touched based on, like both administrations, I’ve already known what’s going on with it and I just like to listen to what they have to say and kind of explain themselves.”

Len Downie speaks to students in the First Amendment Forum after the debate. Most memorable debate moments don’t seem to have had an effect on election outcomes, he said. (Alexis Macklin/DD)

Dias said the debates did not affect her vote at all.

“There have been a lot of interesting gaffes and a lot of interesting ‘gotchas’ in debates that people remember that you see them on television when they replay them that don’t appear to have ever had an effect on the campaign,” Downie said.

The debates may continue to take center stage on “Saturday Night Live” and envelop the conversation on CNN, but it seems most minds were made up before the “binders full of women” or “horses and bayonets.”

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