Election 2020: Do debates actually impact how people vote?


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Sen. Kamala Harris met face to face with Vice President Mike Pence at the University of Utah on Wednesday night for the first and only vice presidential debate of 2020.

The Commission on Presidential Debates then announced Thursday the next debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden would be held virtually due to the president’s recent coronavirus diagnosis. The debate had initially been scheduled to happen in Miami next week.

Trump vowed not to participate in a virtual debate, calling the concept “ridiculous.” Biden later suggested the event be delayed, setting off a back-and-forth between the two campaigns.

It’s no doubt the debates draw in a lot of viewers. More than 73 million people tuned in to the first presidential debate between Trump and Pence. But what kind of impact, if any, do debates have on elections?

It turns out debates don’t have as much of an impact on election results as voters may think, research shows.

After surveying 172,000 people across the country in 2019, data from Harvard Business School shows that voters aren’t swayed by presidential debates.

“There’s this perception that debates are this great democratic tool where voters can find out what candidates stand for and how good they really are,” Vincent Pons with Harvard Business School said about the survey. “But we find that debates don’t have any effect on any group of voters.”

In a series of post-election surveys published by Pew Research Center, voters found debates useful but said they don’t make their decision based on the debates.

Only 10% of voters said they had definitively made up their minds “during or just after” the presidential debates in 2016. That’s compared to the 11% who said they made up their minds in the days or weeks on or just before Election Day, the 22% who decided during or just after the party conventions and the 42% who made up their minds before the conventions.

Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien said Thursday afternoon the president would be willing to move the debate to Oct. 29, while Biden’s campaign fired back saying “Trump’s erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar and pick new dates of his choosing.”

So while it’s unclear what may happen on Oct. 15, when the next debate was initially scheduled to be held, it’s likely that it won’t have a major effect on many voters, most of whom likely already made their decision about who they’ll vote for in November.

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April 24 2021 08:00 am

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