After the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the focus of the nation was to see how the debate affected both candidates in their campaigns. CNN polled likely voters before the debate and found that 56 percent predicted the president to be the winner. Following the debate, their polls showed that 67 percent named Romney the victor with 25 percent feeling Obama won.
Although the post-debate polling is running at full speed, The Washington Post published an article claiming that, according to “the best political science,” debates don’t have a significant effect on elections. According to the article, the effect is small in presidential debates and causes only about a two percentage point shift.
A poll of Michigan conducted by “Fox 2 News” showed Obama leading Romney 49 percent to 46 percent. Out of those polled, 50 percent said they already knew for whom they were voting and the debate confirmed their choice. Only about 4 percent said watching the debate caused them to change the candidate they were going to vote for.
The Gallup’s daily polls seem to support the claim of insignificance in regard to presidential debates. Gallup polls on a seven-day average, taking polls on the three days before, the day of and the three days after the debate. Their results show the lead the president had before the debate, which was about five points, shrunk to about two points in the days after the debate.
Gallup also stated in only two cases debates have changed the outcome of the election: The 1960 Kennedy/Nixon and 2000 Bush/Gore elections.
Political scientist James Stimson conducted a study on debates which said, “There is no case where we can trace a substantial shift to the debates.”
In contrast, an article published by BBC News said debates make a
difference especially in elections as close as the current one.
“What matters most is not the closely drawn intellectual argument about rival policy platforms, but the body language and the pithy one-liner that sums up an opponent’s faults,” according to The BBC.
The argument over the relevance of debates is not one with a clear winner. Obama is still leading in the polls and after the first debate, Romney is not as far behind as he was before. Whether this will have a defining impact on who will become the next president is yet to be seen.
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