With the 2020 presidential election right around the corner, the biggest question is: Who are you voting for? As members of some of the most crucial voting groups during this election, we are being bombarded with political ads, emails and face-to-face questions. Televised presidential debates are supposed to be one of the main contributing factors to our decision, but do debates really influence how we vote?
Normally, debates don’t have a significant effect on voters, but Trump’s annoying and inexcusable behavior during the first presidential debate of 2020 significantly swayed voters towards his opponent.
Noah Winberry, a fifth-year studying applied education studies and history, sat down with me to talk about the debate. After watching the debate in its entirety, Winberry said there were several times where Trump's actions and comments left him speechless.
“The comment about the Proud Boys, the ‘Stand back and stand by’ comment was — I don’t even know what to say about that,” Winberry said. “My jaw literally dropped while I was sitting on the couch.”
Viewers all across the nation had similar reactions to Donald Trump's comments and behaviors from the debate. According to a poll by CBS News, 69% of Americans found the debate annoying and 83% said it had a negative tone that they disliked. Similarly, CBS News’ debate analysis called the 90-minute debate “a chaotic series of bitter exchanges and name-calling” that was full of “unfounded accusations.”
Similarly, a post-debate poll done by CBS News found that 42% of Americans thought worse of Donald Trump after the debate because of his actions. Comparative, only 24% of Americans thought better of him and 34% didn’t change their mind. This means that more Americans thought worse of Donald Trump after the debate than anything else.
A key moment that influenced many voters’ opinions about the candidates was when President Trump targeted Joe Biden’s family instead of his platform.
“When he made a show of pretending to confuse Joe Biden’s sons so that he could talk s--- about Joe Biden’s son that had drug and alcohol problems after his mother and brother were killed in a car accident, that was unacceptable to me,” Winberry said.
Most of us will agree that the most recent presidential debate was chaotic and annoying and filled with unacceptable behaviors from both candidates, but were people’s opinions really swayed by the debate?
Ask yourself this: Was your opinion on a candidate swayed or reinforced by what you saw during the debate or afterwards as you read the highlights? According to polls conducted by Real Clear Politics, from September 2019 to Oct. 6, 2020, support for Joe Biden rose from 49% to 51% after the presidential debate, while support for Donald Trump declined. Typically, only about 3% of voters are swayed in total during a political debate. However, after the most recent debate, voter opinions changed significantly as the behaviors of the presidential candidates helped undecided voters make up their minds. This can have a significant impact on who wins the election.
Think about North Carolina for a moment. We are typically a swing state. As of Oct. 5, Joe Biden was ahead in the North Carolina general election presidential polls by only a few points. Even if only a small percentage of those polled throughout the country changed their minds after the debate, that is still enough to drastically change the polling numbers and solidify a candidate’s position in swing states like North Carolina.
Even though the statistics may not seem very large, the 2020 presidential debate did have a significant impact on voters’ opinions on the candidates and resulted in Donald Trump losing support. His actions were unjustifiable, inexcusable and outright annoying. Now it is up to us, the most significant voting blocks in the 2020 presidential election, to take what we learned from the presidential debates and vote in November.