Weekend Rewind: The impact of Presidential Debates

The impact of Presidential Debates

Bottom Line: The Commission on Presidential Debates finalized plans for the 2020 Presidential debates. Given the rumors Joe Biden might opt out and that high-profile Democrats such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, suggested he should opt out – this announcement alone is somewhat newsworthy. Here’s what the Presidential debate schedule looks like:

  • September 29th - Cleveland: Moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace
  • October 7th - Vice Presidential Debate Salt Lake City: Moderated by USA Today’s Susan Page
  • October 15th - Miami: Moderated by C-SPAN's Steve Scully
  • October 22nd - Nashville: Moderated by NBC co-anchor Kristen Welker

Notably, seven states: Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, South Dakota, Vermont, Virigina and Wyoming will all have started voting prior the first Presidential debate. That compares to Florida, in which voting won’t begin until after the final debate on October 24th. Voting timelines could play a role because history suggests debates do matter in close elections. In the polling age here’s the range of impact in the polls the first Presidential debate has had one week later:

Smallest impact:

  • Bush vs. Clinton 1992: 0.6%

Largest impact:

  • Obama vs. Romney 2012: 5%

The average impact has been 2.6%. The bottom line is that while there aren’t many undecided or truly independent voters this late in cycles (generally 8% or fewer), those who truly are on the fence do look to debates and they do have an impact. Given the significance of this election and the intrigue factor associated with Biden and Trump debating – the stakes are high and mostly for Biden. If he can prove he can go toe-to-toe with Trump for three rounds at an hour and a half each – he could stand to benefit. If he can’t - it could be a crushing blow to his candidacy. They should be interesting.

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