As President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden head into first presidential debate in Cleveland today, a debate expert, Prof Mitchell McKinney has said that presidential debates aid political parties to sway voters who are undecided before the election.
McKinney, Director of the Political Communication Institute at the University of Missouri, disclosed this yesterday while fielding questions from journalists across the globe at the ongoing Elections 2020: Virtual Reporting Tour of the Foreign Press Center for the November 3 Presidential Election.
According to him, the debates, serve as a focal point of the long campaign for voters, adding that, “debates generate more citizen to citizen discussion than any other single campaign.
“Debates do not change the views of a large majority of voters, but just a small; it serves some functions of educating voters. Debates serve voters interest and facilitate voters learning, particularly of the candidates’ character or image.
“As high as 90-95 per cent of debate viewers record no change in candidate choice after debate viewing. But of the approximately 5 per cent who come to the debate undecided, more than half, 3-4 per cent of these individuals will report a candidate preference following debate viewing.”
On the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the debate, the scholar said the virus will change the structure of the debate, stating that there will be a smaller-in-hall audience at the debate venue, adding that all safety precautions will be observed.
While stating that the winner of the debate may not necessarily win the election, Dr. McKinney said the focus of the debate is on Biden, the Democratic Party candidate, stating that “Joe Biden has a tall order in the debate and he is going to walk on a tight rope than Trump. It is his debate to win or lose.
“I will expect Donald Trump to be Donald Trump and that is what his supporters want to see. We expect Trump to make claims and I am not sure how he will be losing the debate, but the same cannot be said of Biden.”