WSU Director of Debate Jeff Jarman says get ready for an all-out brawl in several battleground states as President Obama and Mitt Romney try to woo voters.
Photo: Joe Kleinsasser
Debates are opportunity to sway undecided voters
Sep 27, 2012 2:00 PM | Print

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Get ready for an all-out brawl in several battleground states as President Obama and Mitt Romney try to woo voters during the presidential debates. While debates aren't constitutionally mandated, they are often considered part of the election process. Jeff Jarman, director of debate at Wichita State University, says the question nowadays isn't whether to debate, but how much?

Jarman: "The question now is not will there be debates, but how many debates? Challengers always want to debate and incumbents who are strong always want to limit the number of debates. But any candidate who tried not to debate, especially in a presidential campaign, would face serious repercussions from the public."

Jarman says the presidential debate format is significantly different this year.

Jarman: "They've changed the format this year to have extended discussions on more limited topics. So we'll see six 15-minute discussions to try to give the candidates a better opportunity to discuss important issues. The economy is so complicated. You can't fix the economy in 90 seconds, and the debates have adjusted for that."

The new debate format will help voters who watch the debates, according to Jarman.

Jarman: "The extended discussion and the longer format will give voters a real opportunity to see the differences between the candidates. They have more time to explain true differences in their approaches, and that will benefit voters who watch the debates."

Of course, regardless of the debate format, most partisans will claim their candidate won the debate, as Jarman explains.

Jarman: "Some caution is in order. Partisans, who make up the vast majority of viewers and voters, still overwhelmingly select their candidate as winning the debate, even when they have more extended time for discussion."

Jarman says undecided voters may be few in number, but they can make a big difference in the outcome of the election. That is one reason why the presidential debates are particularly important.

Jarman: "So, even though undecided voters make up a small portion of the electorate, in our close elections where there are several key states those undecided voters can make a big difference in the outcome of the election."

According to Jarman, there are advantages and disadvantages for the incumbent in presidential debates.

Jarman: "For the incumbent, there really are benefits and detriments to being in the office for the last four years. On the one hand, they have four years worth of achievements they can point to. On the other hand, they have four years worth of policies that their challengers can go after in the debates."

And it's a good bet that there will be some memorable lines coming out of the debates.

Jarman: "Well, you can count on the fact that there will be memorable lines in these debates. The problem for the candidates is they don't know which ones those will be before the debates happen. That's why they work so hard to prepare every line in these debates, so that whichever one turns out to be the famous line, it will be delivered the way they want it delivered."

Debates are broadcast live on television and radio. The first debate for the 1960 election drew more than 66 million viewers out of 179 million, making it one of the most watched broadcasts in U.S. television history.

Thanks for listening. Until next time, this is Joe Kleinsasser for Wichita State University.

Created on Sep 27, 2012 2:00 PM; Last modified on Nov 12, 2013 12:36 PM
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