News Release: Politics

Sep. 23,  2008

Presidential Debates: Expect Talking Points, Gaffe Avoidance

The first in a series of Presidential debates is set for Friday, giving the American public an opportunity to hear directly from the candidates, Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Senator Barack Obama. Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz weighs in on what to expect.

"The debates are overrated in terms of their impact on the electorate. Polling data the past few decades has shown that the net impact is very small, only a couple of points," says Abramowitz, a renowned expert on polling, national politics and elections.

"Generally people react to debates along party lines and already have their minds made up," Abramowitz says. "Undecided voters are less like to watch the debates to begin with, and even those who do are generally not influenced by them very much." In 2004, Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry was perceived as the winner of all three debates, "but that didn't help him much," he says. 

"I wouldn't expect or look for anything dramatic," says Abramowitz, noting the intensive preparation the candidates are undergoing. "Both candidates will stick to their talking points, so we're not likely to hear anything new or different, although with the state of the economy they're like to stray off course from talking about foreign policy."


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