What impact do debates have at the presidential, senate levels?

Your Local Election HQ

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s no surprise this election cycle has people a little stressed or burnt out.

“They’re not on the trail, but this is the most polarized politics we’ve had since at least the Civil War,” said Western Carolina University Political Scientist Chris Cooper.

The fact that campaign public appearances are limited due to COVID-19 means more pressure on the candidate’s performance during the upcoming debates. President Donald Trump vs. Democratic candidate Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence, and Sen. Thom Tillis vs. Democratic candidate Cal Cunningham are three of the debates locked in.

But do the debates matter all that much?

“One of the questions we have with debates — even when candidates get a bump from the debate — (is) does that ball come back down? In other words, does a bump become a bounce, or does it stay up and keep that candidate riding high?” Cooper asked.

That high is more about getting a supporter to go to the polls, donate to the campaign, and influence other voters than it is about changing that voter’s mind.

“There’s not a lot of undecided voters left in America or left in North Carolina. You know, we’re a little bit unique because we are so close. Even if there’s just a small number of undecided voters, they can be the ones that matter,” Cooper said.

The Trump-Biden polls are extremely close in North Carolina. Many may remember that Gov. Roy Cooper (D) beat incumbent Pat McCrory (R) in the last election by only 10,277 votes. Those are the folks candidates are after.

“So, somebody like Cunningham, this in some ways is his coming-out party,” Cooper said. “This is (his) first chance to have not paid media, but earned media where it’s live and we get to see how he responds.”

It will also highlight how he looks next to Tillis, who has a much longer voting record and time in public office that he can be judged by.

“There’s an important quality of debates where we do get to learn more about the candidate again, especially in these examples,” Cooper said. “The senate example and farther down the ballot (is) where we’re not so baked in with our opinions.”

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