Presidential Debates: Will These Be The Deciding Factor?

If you believe the polls, Kerry and Bush are within a few percentage points.

Do you think the debates will finally sway the so-called “undecided” voters?

Or do you think the polls will start to swing in one direction or another for other reasons - and if so, what will “turn the corner” on the mood of the electorate?

The debates may make a difference. I think Iraq fatigue (how sick people become of hearing about it), terrorism (also sort of a fatigue thing- are there any attacks and what do people think of the warnings), and the economy (is there going to be progress? where’s it going now?) will probably matter more in terms of overall public opinion. To be more picky, you could probably say economic conditions in the particularly important swing states like Ohio and Michigan will be a big factor.

What we would need, and I’m looking for it without any luck so far, is a record of weekly polls from the last election. That way we could see if Bush and Gore’s ratings fluctuated as a result of the debates.

And I think this may matter as well: Kerry is cutting Bush’s edge in the ‘who can protect the country’ category.

I think so. The debates have become less about issues and more about getting face time; sort of showing your personality if you will. People watch these and vote for who they like when policy has become a nonfactor.

It’s certainly not what these were intended for, but that’s what they are now. A bipartisan infomercial :rolleyes:

Actually, no. I think 95% of those that watch have already made up their minds and watch just to see their man win. There may be some sound bites that get played on the news that may swing a few people, especially if one of them makes a major flub.

It also depends on what kind of debate there is. Kerry has an edge in an unscripted debate, one that requires thinking on one’s feet. I found it amusing to watch Bush switch from scripted to unscripted mode during the Russert interview. I doubt that Rove would allow such a thing in the presidential debates, but maybe in the veepstakes.

It may be that more voters than usual will take an pointed interest in the upcoming debates, but…the media is always on the lookout for that one stumble or snappy “you’re no Jack Kennedy” remark that becomes their focal point. Then, that soundbite goes into heavy rotation and plays a role in creating the positive or negative impressions that guide casual voters. So, I think something could come out of the debates that would influence voters, but only this very superficial way.

In the July/August 2004 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, there was a cover article, “When George Meets John,” by James Fallows, speculating about how Bush and Kerry will stack up in the debates. From the story:

If I were on Kerry’s team, I think I would publicly insist on a Lincoln-Douglas style direct exchange, and make a big issue of it if Bush didn’t agree. No way to lose there – if Bush agrees, Kerry will make him look like the fool he is, and if he doesn’t he looks like a chicken.

The Commission on Presidential Debates ( has scheduled the following:

First presidential debate:
Thursday, September 30
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL

Vice presidential debate:
Tuesday, October 5
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH

Second presidential debate:
Friday, October 8
Washington University
in St. Louis

Third presidential debate:
Wednesday, October 13
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ

The Bush team will do everything possible to minimize the debates. If you remember the 2000 election, Bush tried his damnedest to get it down to (IIRC) two debates, one of which would actually be either in a “Larry King Live”-style format–a seated discussion in prime time on cable–or actually on “Larry King”. He wasn’t even President back then, so he didn’t have the “too busy” or “security concerns” excuses to fall back on.

One approach that the Bushies might consider? Just not showing up. I don’t think Bush can hold up in any sort of reasonable debate, so I’m sure they’re wondering how much it would hurt them to just not show up at all for the debates. He could play it up–“I’m far too busy with the important business of fighting terror and boosting the economy to listen to your flip-flopping liberal drivel.” It might just work.

No, I don’t think that would work. In fact, it would be like admitting defeat in advance of the election.

Also – the debates are already scheduled – what if Bush doesn’t show up but Kerry does show up? Then he can say to the mods, “Hey, I’m here, I’m ready to go, just ask me all the questions you’ve got prepared.” Then Kerry gets an hour of free national airtime to talk about his policies with no opponent to shoot down his points. :smiley:

One thing I’ve never understood. Why do people accept a candidate who wants to avoid debates? It doesn’t make any sense to me. A good Presidential candidate should relish the opportunity to explain what he wants to do and point out the flaws with the other candidate’s ideas. Why do people accept a candidate who seems afraid to debate?

I personally think there should be weekly Presidential debates for at least a couple months before the election. Sure, the rating might drop off, but by the end we’d actually know how the candidates stood on issues, and how well they were at convincing people that their views are the correct views–and, well, isn’t that what we want in a President?

To avoid a possible argument: I’m not just saying this because I think the candidate I prefer would win the debates. The reason I prefer that candidate is that I think he would win the debates. If I felt he’d lose them (or, of course, if he actually does lose them), I wouldn’t prefer that candidate anymore. But, of course, “losing” a debate, by my judgment, means failing to convince me that he’s right.

A couple of months is too long. A series doesn’t sound too bad, but the networks wouldn’t want to do too many, which is probably why we have the number we do now.

Well, of course, presidential debates are not like a high-school debating competition. There are no judges. Both sides will claim victory afterwards, only the voters can decide who “won,” and their voting decisions might be based on factors having nothing to do with the debates – not every voter even watches them.

Any discussion of whether the debates will decide the election has to take into account the power of dramatic outside events to make them irrelevant. Some candidates:

  1. Another spectacular terror attack. Likely to help Bush with a “Rally 'round the flag reaction”, if it’s close to Election day. Less chance, but still possible, could hurt Bush if people have enough time to get over the first reflexive reaction and start asking why the administration didn’t protect us.

  2. Karzai gets assassinated and the Taliban take back major portions of Afghanistan, while the country as a whole spirals into outright civil war. Likely to hurt Bush.

  3. The Iraqi insurgency boils over into civil war, with U.S. casualties jumping tenfold, the interim government collapsing, and Blair knocked out of office on a vote of no confidence (am I right on how it would work, UKers?). Very bad for Bush.

American deaths in Iraq already look set to cross the psychologically significant 1,000 mark at about the time of the republican national convention. Even without a civil war disaster, there’s going to have to be some fast talking done before November 2nd.

In Geektopia, the debates would run until the ratings dwindled (lower than they do now) or the election occurred. If a significant number of people are still watching the debates, either a) there are some people who are still undecided, or b) (and oh this would be wonderful) there are two candidates worthy of the job of President of the United States, whose debates electrify and capture the attention of the electorate. Of course, I don’t think Americans are as stupid and apathetic as everyone seems to assume we are, and, well, I admit I might be wrong to hold that view, so maybe these uberdebates wouldn’t be as great as I think they would be.

Yeah, that’s what I was trying to say. But I still believe that, if we actually had two fully qualified candidates, the debates would actually increase in viewership as they went on, not decrease. Oh, if only…

If one recalls 4 years ago, the Bush camp spin was that because Gore was a great debater and Bush wasn’t, it would be “victory” for Bush to do a passable job during the debates. Not to win the debates. I think that story got spun enough to be accepted by a lot of people as the standard for what to aspire to in that presidential debate.

That was then, this is now. Bush has been president, has held the most important job in the world, for four years. Shouldn’t the people hold him to a higher debate-performance standard than they held him in 2000? The Bush camp, after all, can hardly repeat the tactic of spinning him as an amateur. You just can’t do that when you’re going for a second term.

Is Bush that bad in debates? My vague recollection is that he did quite well against Gore. I guess his technique mostly consisted of quickly changing the topic and giving snippets of prepared speeches, but it seemed to work.