The Presidential Debates: An Overview

The third presidential debate, the last major showdown between the two major party nominees before election day, aired on October 19th. The debates this time around are absolutely essential due to the increased number of undecided voters compared to the last two presidential elections.

The road leading up to the last debate has been eventful to say the least. In order to understand what happened during the candidates’ most recent outing, we need to view it in its proper context. Conventional wisdom in past elections shows that the typical undecided voter tends to be uninformed about many policy issues. In that regard, any attempt by the candidates to go too deep into the nuts and bolts of policy may not have been as successful as the candidates hoped. On the other hand, what does matter to the undecided voter is demeanor.

The first debate broke viewership records with over 84 million viewers. This debate also held the strongest margin of victory for any candidate. The aggregate presented by FiveThirtyEight grants Hillary Clinton a thirty-five-point lead in post-debate polls. Worthy of note is Donald Trump’s comments about his own temperament, which, since that time, have become the number one polled concern among Trump’s supporters.

The debate among the vice presidents was a different story for the Trump Campaign. Mike Pence’s calm demeanor won over the crowd, giving him an edge over Democrat, Tim Kaine. Although it is undisputed that Mike Pence won the day, this win won’t necessarily help Trump win the presidency. Voters are very unlikely to cast their support based on VP picks. Considering Tim Kaine centered the debate around attacking Donald Trump, the actual nominee of his party, his lost battle may aid in winning the war. Mike Pence’s superior performance overall has boosted his popularity within his own party and could set him up for more prominent roles in the future.

The second presidential debate was a firestorm. Airing right after the leak of Trump’s audio tapes and the WikiLeaks dump of Podesta emails, there was a lot to cover. This debate was significantly closer than the first, but with Hillary Clinton still coming out on top. Donald Trump’s winning argument regarding Clinton’s experience being bad experience made another appearance here. To be fair, the post-debate polls could be skewed in this case due to its adjacency to two controversial events involving the candidates. Voters could have been responding to the controversy rather than the debate.

Unfortunately for Donald Trump, scientific polling indicates he lost the final debate as well. Clinton’s experience in politics clearly shines in a public debate setting, which also explains why the margin of victory became smaller and smaller with each debate as Trump became more and more acclimated to the debate stage. The aggregate of polls gives Clinton a thirteen-point lead in this case.

As far as the actual happenings of the third debate, the water was muddied for the first hour with lots of brutal back-and-forth by both candidates. When Hillary Clinton was posed with a question she didn’t like, she somehow maneuvered to Russia, which is a losing issue for Donald Trump. Mike Pence’s polite demeanor didn’t rub off on his running mate, as Donald Trump used phrases like “bad hombres” and “nasty woman.” What dominated the headlines within a few hours of the debate on most major news outlets was Trump’s refusal to say whether or not he’d accept election results. With the debates all said and done, Hillary Clinton is looking at an approximate six point lead over her opponent, which will likely tighten slightly (barring more radical news) before election day.

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