Presidential debates change voter opinion more than usual in this election

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COLUMBIA – Millions of people will be watching the third and final presidential debate Wednesday night. Usually, such debates don’t change people’s vote preference much, according to MU professor Ben Warner. But he said this election has been different so far.

Warner is an expert on presidential debates and his department has been studying them since 2000. His data shows a 10 point shift towards Hillary Clinton after the first debate and a five point shift after the second debate.

“That’s significantly more movements in vote preference than we have seen in any of the previous cycles,” Warner said.

The data shows that, coming into the debates, both candidates have been extraordinarily unpopular. Clinton has used the debates to improve the way people see her, whereas Donald Trump on the other hand hasn’t been able to change perceptions of him, according to Warner’s data.

Both candidates will get another change to convince more voters Wednesday night. Andrew Pryor is one voter who, so far, hasn’t been impressed with either candidate.

“They didn’t talk about policies, which is the most important thing people want to hear. They just talk about what they think of each other,” Pryor said. “Judging by the last debate, I’m sure tonight will not go much better.”

Warner there is much more to the presidential debates than just deciding who to vote for.

“A lot of times, we discuss if people are really going to change their minds when watching a debate, when what’s really happening is an important civic function,” Warner said.

He points out that the debates play an important role in order to make our democracy function by getting mass participation in the election.

“The debates give people a lot of information about the candidates and more importantly they increase people’s confidence that they have knowledge to participate in the election,” Warner said. “So after watching a debate, people are a lot more likely to actually vote.”