Skip to main content

This year's three presidential debates could really turn the voters

Commentators agree that something strange and unprecedented is going on in the electorate

What to expect in Clinton vs. Trump debate

The three presidential debates this fall will probably be unlike anything we have seen before. Although commentators like to speak in hyperbole, in 2016 they could be right.

The reason is clear. American politics has not seen anything like Donald Trump. If his performances in the Republican primaries are any indication of what is to come, the verbal battles between him and Hillary Clinton will be intense, dramatic and contentious. Trump will certainly approach these events like a reality game show, hoping he is the last person left standing.

The truth is that presidential debates rarely have a huge effect on the outcome of the election. Scholars who study elections and debates generally agree that the ability of these confrontations to have a dramatic impact on the polls is minimal unless the Electoral College race is extraordinarily close, which right now is not the case.

When we look back at some of the most colorful moments in presidential debates, gaffes and stumbles are used to explain dynamics that were already at work in the campaign. As John Sides wrote in the Washington Monthly, "The small or nonexistent movement in voter's preferences is evident when comparing the polls before and after each debate or during the debate season as a whole."

But these debates -- beginning with the first, on September 26 -- might be extremely significant, more so than in previous years. So what makes them different?

This article continues at [CNN] Why the 2016 presidential debates really matter

Back to top