The importance of Presidential debates is always discussed during debate season with two schools of thought on the topic. Some believe that debates do little in changing the outcome of presidential elections while others point to clear evidence that debates do more to sway voters than all the attack ads money can buy.

The American Thinker explored this topic in a piece out today discussing the merits of Presidential Debates.

The voters seem evenly divided today, and there are only a few things which can move public sentiment prior to November. The economy is already bad, but if it gets worse — and is perceived as getting worse — that could shift votes. Obama could plan an “October surprise” in the international arena, as Donald Trump has suggested, but the very modest blip after the death of Osama bin Laden and the war-weariness of Americans make that a dubious ploy which could easily fail. Romney’s choice of a running mate will likely give him a brief blip in support as well, but it looks today as if there is nothing to really change voters much before November…except for the presidential debates.

Conventional wisdom is that the presidential debates are not that important, but that is not necessarily true. Nixon in 1960 lost the election because of poor makeup in his debates with JFK. Ford may well have lost in 1976 by stating that Poland was not under Soviet domination. Reagan’s “There you go again” might have turned a close race into the landslide of 1980. Al Gore’s intimidating lurch towards Bush in 2000 seems to have shifted votes as well. There have been televised debates in ten presidential elections, and about half the time, those debates seem to have made a difference.

If the debates swing voters, almost certainly those votes will move to Romney, for several different reasons. As Herman Cain recently noted, Romney is much more experienced that Obama. Romney has participated in more televised political debates over a longer period of time, through a wider spectrum of races, than Obama. Romney’s life experiences are broader than the leftist academic and Chicago machine politics of Obama. Romney, viewed fairly by conservatives who did not want him as their nominee, should be a much more effective debater against Obama than McCain was in 2008.

More so than any of the primary debates, the upcoming Obama/Romney debates in October seem more intriguing than ever. There are vulnerabilities on both sides that can be exploited during these televised match-ups.

In 2004, for example, I recall John Edwards attempting to use the Vice Presidential debate to point out that Dick Cheney’s daughter, Mary Cheney, was gay in an attempt to try and call out the Vice President on the grounds of hypocrisy over gay marriage. John Kerry did the same thing during a Presidential debate by dropping that piece of information while debating President Bush. Both occasions were an attempt to use the massive national audience to raise the awareness of this fact in the context of the gay marriage ban initiatives on many state ballots in 2004.

Debates present a huge national audience so if you’re going to drop some major tidbit in an attempt to sway voters, this is the venue to do it in.

28 COMMENTS

  1. My take on this is, if you are ahead in the polls, you are a fool to enter into a debate.
    Hillary made a big mistake in doing so as did Nixon.

    • You are correct. In a letter to me in August 1956, President Wilson Elkins, President of the University of Maryland, judged my proposal for presidential election debates “sensational if it ever came to pass,”but they would provide little enlightenment” “Politicians would avoid them since they would not gain if they were better known than their opponents. ” That was the error of Richard Nixon who was then better known then Senator John Kennedy. Nixon learned that lesson and did not debate in l968 nor 1972. Following that formula, indeed, Romney has an advantage and may profit as lesser known nationally as President Obama. In the end, in my view, the debates will sway voters on appearance. It is not on how they answer, but how presidential they do appear.In that category, President Obama may have an advantage Conclusion: It will be a draw unless one makes a gaffe. The economy may be the decisive factor, but that is known even without the debates.

  2. Obama should begin the debate by asking whether he’d be debating Willard the liberal, Rmoney the conservative, or Mittney the Etch-a-Sketch. Seems only fair that the flip-flopper should have to commit to one personality for each full debate.

    • Nate, all Hillary had to do was keep saying, you know what it was like when the Clintons were in the white house. As for he debates, the American people have better thing to do than listen to the lip service from some slick politician from Chicago but if you want to tune in I (Hillary) relinquish my time to my opponent.

      Now who in their right mind would want to hear what some no name black politician from Chicago had to say?

    • It depends on the circumstances. Congressional incumbents do it all of the time, in the primaries and actual races. As long as you can keep the perception that your opponent is not significant enough to debate it works great. It’s similar to the strategy of not mentioning your competition by name. If most people don’t know your competition exists, then you should act like they don’t exist.

      Of course, that won’t work with Romney and Obama. There’s too strong of a precedent that they should debate. But you can imagine what they’d say if they decided not to debate. Obama might say he was too busy doing his real job, and if he had an “October surprise” that might actually be effective. Romney might say the debate configuration was unfair. You could have endless squabbles over the format. Each candidate would spin a message that the other guy was really the one trying to shirk the debate.

      Imagine how complicated that would be for the public to sort out. One candidate could say “any time, any place” and that would be a clear message to the public. But it would also be suicide. If one side could dictate all of the terms of the debate they could virtually guarantee victory.

  3. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the debates will sway voters. Ratings will smash records. Both sides will be fully prepared. They will use highly paid, highly skilled experts in the science of persuasion, and thus it will mostly be a tie.

    And that will be the biggest problem with the debates. There won’t be any experts to represent the American People, no one to hold the candidates’ feet to the fire. Both candidates will dodge questions. They will give answers that are completely unrelated to the questions they are asked. And they will get away with it.

    It will be a chess match between two people where the important factors are body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and phrases that are scientifically optimized for impact. They will challenge each other, but only on the points where their research says they can win. Everything will be considered on the basis of a 1 one 1 match for the cameras.

    The Tea Party, Occupy Wall St., Paulites, and others will have beefs with both candidates. But their views will not be represented because there is no triangle in the format, it’s 1 on 1. Sure, we’ll get questions (carefully preselected questions) that represent these groups, but they are not part of the debate. Each candidate will give their optimized answer that will be that. And none of these groups will get a retort.

    The point of these debates is to further entrench the idea that you have to select from A or B. The many other arguments supported by significant groups of Americans will not be adequately represented. And that is a sad state of affairs.

  4. Who really cares who wins the debates – or even the Presidency for that matter. With all the “Bribe Money” Wall Street is “contributing and/or donating” to BOTH of these “Status-Quo” Good-Ole-Boy Campaigns – just lets us ALL know who really will be “calling-the-shots” and running this country.

    You have to be INCREDIBLY STUPID to think there is a “lick” of difference between Romney and Obama – Republicans and Democrats. These people could “care-less” about you or I – they just “say things” to get your vote and then they’ll go and do exactly what Wall Street tells them to do.

    Don’t be so naive….it’s a rigged game. The Debates? Ha! Look what they did to Ron Paul.

    • The Debates will be the Climax to the “2012 Presidential Reality Show”. But in the end – when all is said and done – absolutely NOTHING will Change – except for the continual decline of America. And we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves – for being so TOTALLY Economically Illiterate and a bunch of Intellectual Pigmies.

      • Oh yeah. Don’t forget to text your vote to American Idol! (I mean Fox News or MSNBC) LOL! So get your phone’s ready and exercise those thumbs. I’m sure that the Elite Wall Street Bankers will need a “chuckle” at what the “peasants” cannot control – The Election! They’ll be laughing-their-asses-off as they sip their champagne and nibble on their caviar and crackers.

      • The national debt will change big time but the new media will continue to focus on domestic spending waste that gets recycled and ignore for the most part what is going overseas never to return.

  5. bLAME ME BECAUSE I WAS THE PERSON WHO PIONEERED THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECYION DEBARES WHICH I WAS THE FIRST TO PROPOSE IN l956,Then, I proposed the debates when i was a collefe student at the University of Maryland. Them, the idea of presidential debates was called “sensational”if iy would evert happened. it did four years later in l960. At 80 years old now, I am finally getting the credit for the debates , see the Nixon foundation blig at: http://blog.nixonfoundation.org/2010/09/the-road-to-the-1960-debates/

  6. sorry for the typos I was the person responsible for proposing the presidential debates in l956. Then my proposal which was novel was carried nationwide by the Associated Press and UPI and endorsed by Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, among many notables.

  7. Back in l956. when i proposed the presidential election debates, I was told that they would never happen. If they would it would be “sensational, but not offer much enlightenment.” That was what the President if the University of Maryland, Dr. Wilson Elkins write in reply to my letter to him, However, MrsRooseveltendorsed the proposal as well as Governir Theodore m,c Keldin, In l958, Governor Adlai E. Stevenson meeting with me, also endorsed my proposal So hat two years later, he testiied in a subcommittee of the Congress in favor of the debates which i had proposed.Also the heads of NBC abd CBS, I am the young man who got the ball rolling according to th Nixon museum foundation at: http://blog.nixonfoundation.org/2010/09/the-road-to-the-1960-debates/

      • you are correct. Then if i recall correctly it was the Huntley-Brinkley News which expanded it to 30 minutes as well as competitor Walter Cronkite who became eventually a favorite some calling him as “uncle Walter.” In those days, women and minorities shined by their absence in the TB News departments. My proposl in 1956 touched a nerve ,I am told afterwards, at least those of CBS producer Frank Stanton. It was CBS interviewers Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow who asked candidate Nixon whether he would agree to debate John F. Kennedy. Nixon agreed; the rest is history. The first debate was held in an empty (of audience) studio of a Chicago Tv station

        • My Uncle said the only news you got to see was at the movie house in the form of a highly edited news real. Oh and the U S Army would sometimes have a display of guns at the movie house that the kids could hold and play fire to get the inner city kids interested in guns and war. Now that was one government project that was successful.

  8. Nebraska GOP Mafia has vowed that on the 14th of July they’ll do WHATEVER it takes to have Ron Paul Supporters SILENCED! See the strong-arm tactics these creatures have already set in motion to cheat Ron Paul of Delegates :

    http://nebraska.watchdog.org/23602/exclusive-security-doubled-at-gop-convention-in-anticipation-of-ron-paul-insurgency/

    Contact Lawyers4RP, Ron Paul’s Campaign — and ALL that are needed to go to Nebraska and assure that NO CHEATING against Real Americans is done, again!

    Spread this like wildfire!

  9. Romney has a plan. He will remain upbeat and modestly critical of Obama in person, with emphasis on the economy. His PAC ads will be devastating, personal, and extremely nasty. He will blanket the critical states with wall to wall ads about how the Obama administration has screwed up, and how much taxes will go up. Ask Mr. Newt how the Florida campaign worked. Ask Santorum about Michigan and Ohio? and the endless negative ads which changed opinion polls by 10 percent in the last week. If past predicts the future, Romney will win by savaging Obama, and then do a remarkable job with the economy.

    • Pipe dream at best. Right now Obama has the union vote, the Latino vote, the Black vote and the food stamp people vote. Romney has all the Americans with Swiss Bank accounts and money in the Caymans.

  10. Ron Paul will be the one beating Obama! Obama is basically a nazi.. He has invaded 10 nations and is trying to take away our freedom in the name of terror! Yet he wants to attack Syria. The guy won’t stop attacking nations! Wake up America! Don’t get me started on Romney.. Seriously, every time he opens his mouth shit falls out. Basically Obama/Romney same thing. No differences in policies..

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