Good Question: Can Debates Change A Person’s Mind?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a tradition that started with Kennedy/Nixon back in 1960 — the televised presidential debate.  The campaigns, press and the voters make a big deal of it.  But, can debates change a person’s mind? Good Question.

“Based on past elections, few minds get changed even when people are decisive as to ‘who wins’ the debate,” says Robert Erikson, professor of political science at Columbia University and co-author of “The Timeline of Presidential Elections.” “But this election has always shown itself to be different, so there is more uncertainty than usual.”

Researchers who’ve looked at pre- and post-debate polling generally find little impact.  When Gallup reviewed election trends during the debate season, it found, “with the exception of 2000, there has been little change in the basic structure of these elections from the period immediately before the first debate to the period immediately following the final debate.”

For example, in a 1988 debate, the polls moved one percentage point after Gov. Michael Dukakis made what was considered a gaffe in his response to a question about the death penalty.

Experts say debates usually have little impact on voter decisions because they happen after most voters have already decided.  In addition, those voters are usually historically the people who tune into the debates.

“Generally speaking, debates don’t change voters’ minds, but every once in a while, there’s a very important debate.  1960, Kennedy/Nixon, 2000 Gore/Bush,” says Paul Goren, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. “I think the 2016 Trump/Clinton is another one of those occasions.”

Goren says these debates could have an impact because there are higher numbers of people watching.  This election also has a higher number of undecided voters so far.

“The early polling suggests there are more undecided voters than we’ve seen in quite some time, and that’s what might make tonight’s debate interesting and potentially a turning point in the election,” says Goren.

More from Heather Brown

One Comment

  1. bulldog says:

    I’m pretty sure Trump helped a lot of people change their minds tonight, from undecided to Clinton supporters.🙂


    1. Mike Coxin says:

      Do you post any comments that aren’t completely idiotic?

        1. Mike Coxin says:

          Oh no… I call you out therefore I am a troll.

          Typical liberal moron!

          1. bulldog says:

            From what I’ve seen in the short time I’ve been around here, you’ve been anything more than a troll, whether you’re “calling me out” or not. Claiming my comments are “idiotic” is not really calling me out though, that’s trolling.

            If you’re going to be a troll, you should at least try to understand the concept, if you can.

            1. Mike Coxin says:

              HA! Short amount of time…. under this username you mean.

              Liberals love to call it “”trolling”” because someone disagrees with them and that is completely unacceptable in the minds of a liberal. Did Mommy and Daddy raise you as a delicate snow flake. Help me…. I’m melting!

              Buckle up princess snow flake, you are going to have a difficult future.

              1. bulldog says:

                See there, that’s trolling, good job.

                Now I’m done with you.

                1. Mike Coxin says:

                  Oh no… are you butt hurt?

                  Precious snow flake!

  2. leftofright says:

    I could only tolerate 5 minutes of it. The debate did confirm for me that they both kcus.

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