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Presidential Debates Influence on The Polls

 
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Presidential Debates Influence on The Polls
by Emily Young - 27 October 2016
 

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Last week the third and final presidential debate between Secretary Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump took place at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It was also viewed on the screens of millions of homes across the country. Citizens awaited the final words of the two candidates in a debate that continues to make waves in a sea of predictable responses.

You missed the debate? Watch the most talked-about moments in this 3-minute summary.

Fox News Anchor Chris Wallace moderated, and according to viewers has arguably done the best in upholding unbiased (or at least equal) dialogue with the two candidates. The debate focused on issues like debt, entitlement reform, immigration, economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot spots and fitness to be president. Differences in opinion on issues such as abortion came through as Trump claimed “I am pro life, I am going to defend pro life” while Clinton stated that she would defend Roe v. Wade, supported a woman’s right to an abortion and Planned Parenthood.  Other topics of dissidence consisted of the US’s relationship with Russia and how that would be affected by a presidency by either candidate. Although the effects were arbitrary, Clinton noted Trumps affiliation with a toxic and ruthless Putin (to her) as Trump proclaimed that an allegiance with Russia would contribute to the defeat of ISIS.

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At my university, the University of Michigan, students gathered in Angell Hall and attended different watch parties hosted by College Democrats, College Republicans and Students for Hillary.  The College Republican party hosted republican candidate for state representative in Michigan’s 52nd district Randy Clark who encouraged students to vote. “Everybody wants to run and hide under a rock because they can’t stand this mess that’s going on, but you really have to get involved, you have to make a difference,” he explained.

As for making a difference, the effect of presidential debates on voter opinion is a debatable point, depending on where you get your information. The Washington Monthly for example, asserts that presidential debates are game changers in the opinions of strategists. According to Political Scientists researching data on electoral changes after the debates however, presidential debates have “rarely if ever, mattered”.  The Washington Monthly goes on to say that in very close elections, new information is not likely to change the minds of voters.  Because debates do occur late in the campaign of the candidates, decisions are usually reached by a majority of voters before the debates occur. The demographic of debate watchers typically consists of those who have an interest in politics and/or already have loyalties to a party.  Rather than focusing on how the debate will affect whom they vote for, it atypically aligns voters more closely with the candidate they believe won (and usually that is the member of their party).

Due to the improbability of the election and indecision of voters however, this election year could be different in regards to the influence of debates on voter opinion; especially in the face of Trump’s allegations entailing the corruption of the polls.

According to a poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, one third of Clinton’s and Trump’s supporters were undecided as to whether they were definitely voting for their candidate. Clinton’s evident rise in percentage points, going from three in the first debate to ten in the last week, show how the debate can have a polarizing effect. An argument for this is that Clinton has also not been in the spotlight of mass media for the past few weeks. Due to scandals involving Trump and his mistreatment of women, Clinton’s scandalous emails have moved away from the limelight, allowing for more media outlets to call Trump’s character into question (especially as women come forth and attest to his alleged abuse). Trump's decline in the polls can also be attributed to his perceived performance in the debates.

In a poll by ABC News, Clinton was found to have reached her highest percentage of support while Trump had sunk to his lowest the day after the debate. Other interesting voting trends show Trump’s popularity among white voters, men, non-whites, and women, declining. Clinton on the other hand has reached her highest percentage of male voters ever.  The poll also found that the number of registered republicans likely to vote has dropped in response to Trump’s campaign against the media.

SurveyMonkey's chief research officer Jon Cohen contributed his thoughts on the efficacy of polls and surveys such as those that are conducted by his company. While explaining the difficulty in predicting an election across fifty states, Cohen affirmed that the polls have stayed relatively stable within the past five weeks and that according to their predictions and data, there is more than a ninety percent chance that Clinton will take the election. He supports his argument by referring to the 307 electoral votes Clinton has already ‘locked up’.

Real Clear Politics show Clinton leading by eleven percentage points in Michigan, but voters supporting Trump strongly believe in his victory and continue to point to his “understanding of how trade deals affect Michigan’s economy negatively and his fight against voter fraud”. Whether the 90% chance likelihood will come to fruition is not clear, as many voters remain undecided. In less than fourteen days we will find out if Cohen was right.

 

Useful resources

If you missed the third and last debate, you can watch the entire video below:

Now, one question that remains is how much of what both candidates said on stage last week was actually true and factual. Several media outlets focused on this and produced 'fact checks' on both candidates' performances. One interesting example comes from the staff at National Public Radio who annotated the entire script of the debate.

 
Finally, how much did the debate impact on voters? USA Today undertook an interesting experiment and interviewed students across swing states on their perception of the debate.

USA Today: What college students in 5 swing states thought of the 3rd debate

 


Emily Young is a student in International Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. She grew up in the tri-border region of Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium and has a serious interest in US and EU Relations. Emily loves photography and will contribute a photo series.
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