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Debates Don’t Impact the Elections, Say Political Scientists

By Jazlyn Beltre

There were over 51 million viewers watching the Vice Presidential debate in early October. According to an October 12th article in the Los Angeles Times, “Nielsen: 51.4 million people watched Joe Biden-Paul Ryan debate” by Meg James, how can one not think that the debates strongly impact the voters of our nation, especially when social media is overflowing with public opinion. The debates give Americans an opportunity to compare and contrast the candidates, their policies and styles, by listening or watching on T.V. It is also a chance to see how our leader deals with pressure and conflict, which are important things to consider when voting.

Yet, despite the apparent interest, according to various studies, debates do not make or break the elections. According to the Washington Monthly, in his article “Do Presidential Debates Really Matter?”, John Sides states that “Scholars who have looked most carefully at the data have found that, when it comes to shifting enough votes to decide the outcome of the election, presidential debates have rarely, if ever, mattered.” The effect of the debates on eventual votes are likely mild, and, in most cases, nonexistent.

Journalism major Dorianna Valerio, does not believe that the debates can have a significant impact on the elections, yet she still follows the Presidential debates. “I believe the debates are useful in showing character. You get to see how each candidate acts and you get a sense of what they are about.” said Valerio. But, she also believes that the debates can be difficult for Americans to decipher. “I think the debates are useful in keeping Americans educated in general. However, I believe watching the debates can be overwhelming; as you try to separate truth from embellishment.”

But, how so if immediately after the first Presidential debate, polls indicated that President Obama’s lead began to decline? “Analysts criticized Obama for a weak performance, and Romney has since seen a bump in the polls among likely voters,” according to the James article in The Los Angeles Times. Also, even though Biden was seen as the victor in the Vice Presidential debate against Paul Ryan, according to an article in Reuters, “Fiery Biden sets stage for Obama recovery attempt,” by Patricia Zengerle on October 12, pollster Julia Clark said, “Vice presidential debates don’t change electoral outcomes, but it may have done a little bit to stem the tide.”

Yecenia Tapia, a Senior and Child Education major believes the debates are still very important to watch. “It’s a way for people to get to know their politicians a little more” she said. Tapia will be voting on November 6. Ashley Abney, Vice President of the NAACP club on campus and senior Public Relations major, watched the first presidential debate and half of the vice presidential debate. “I believe the Presidential debate has way more impact on the country,” says Abney. “because you’re hearing from the future head of state.” She also believes they are important because, “You see how they [the presidential candidates] respond to questions with details about their platform,” she states. “And how they interact with their competition.”

Even though political scientists claim that the debates do little for the election, it does not mean that they are no longer important to watch. Because, what effects do exist are most likely caused by factors beyond the content of the debates, like media coverage and the candidates’ appearance, according to an October 3rd article in the Washington Post “Do presidential debates usually matter? Political scientists say no” by Dylan Matthews. It is for this reason that the debates are important to watch, so we are not as easily persuaded by the media to lean towards the side of a candidate without being fully informed of all the issues.

Election Day is on Tuesday November 6. Vote 2012.

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