Following a chaotic debate, what could next events look like?

What could make the next debates substantial rather than a mud fight?

WOMEN FOR TRUMP cheer for the president at a ‘Debate Watch Party’ Tuesday night in California. (photo credit: MIKE BLAKE/ REUTERS)
WOMEN FOR TRUMP cheer for the president at a ‘Debate Watch Party’ Tuesday night in California.
(photo credit: MIKE BLAKE/ REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – In the aftermath of the most chaotic presidential debate in US history, the Commission on Presidential Debates is now reportedly considering changing the format of the remaining events to avoid yet another 90 minutes of incoherent cross talk.
According to media reports, the commission is considering to cut off the microphone in case of interruption from one of the candidates, or to cancel the part in which both candidates are encouraged to engage with each other after the initial two minutes to address a question from the moderator.
What could make the next debates substantial rather than a mud fight?
“The Commission on Presidential Debates needs to consider imposing physical changes to the setup of the debate,” Tammy Vigil, associate professor of communication studies at Boston University and a presidential debate expert, told The Jerusalem Post.
“At a minimum, the moderator should be given the ability to cut out the microphones of the candidates while the opponent is speaking,” she added. “This won’t prevent all interruption on stage, just minimize the sound disruptions for the viewing audience.
“It might make sense to have the candidates in either soundproof booths or in separate rooms where they can hear the opponent’s comments and responses, but not interruptions. The mics in the rooms should be controlled by the moderator so that each candidate could respond to the ideas put forth by the other, but the interruptions would be muted.
“It seems extreme, but it might be the only way to create a forum where actual information can be exchanged and heard by the viewing public,” she concluded.
“At minimum, mute each candidate’s microphone during the other candidate’s two-minute periods of uninterrupted speaking time,” David Zarefsky, professor emeritus at Northwestern School of Communication, told the Post.
“Beyond that, enable the moderator to turn off the microphone of a candidate who repeatedly violates the ground rules that both campaigns have agreed to,” he added.
“I would favor some more basic changes, such as eliminating the idea of a ‘free discussion’ period, but those might require renegotiation with the two campaigns and might be inadvisable to make in the middle of a campaign season.” Elizabeth Sanders, professor emerita at Cornell University’s department of government, told the Post that the public needs these debates, “though last night was the worst in history due to Trump’s refusal to allow Biden to speak without constant interruption, which Biden then reciprocated.
“There must be a firm agreement not to interrupt, and strong enforcement,” she added.
FOLLOWING THE debate, media outlets have traditionally announced a “winner” of the debate. But as was shown with Mitt Romney, who, according to a Gallup poll won the first debate with Obama in 2012, and Hillary Clinton, who won the first debate in 2016, there is no correlation between winning a debate and winning the election.
What, then, is the effect of the debate, and what does it actually mean to win the debate?
“Proclaiming the winner does not matter that much, since partisans of each candidate are very likely to proclaim their candidate the winner, regardless of what happens in the debate,” said Zarefsky.
“There usually is some correlation between winning the debates and winning the election, but there are exceptions: in 2004 and 2016 Kerry and Clinton, respectively, were by broad consensus regarded as the winners of all three debates but lost the election. Often the debates involve ‘split verdicts,’ with each candidate considered to have won some of them.” “Research suggests that most people believe the candidate whom they support won the debate, regardless of their performance,” said Thomas Hollihan, professor of communication at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
“Polls indicate that among those who watched the debate, most believed that Biden won. Does it matter? It shapes media coverage and framing.
“There are very few undecided voters remaining in this election. People either love Trump or they hate him. His support has hovered around 40% since he took office. His negatives are above 50%. He needed to change the narrative last night and win support from some undecided voters,” he continued.
“The most important group, according to the polls, is white women in the suburbs. He barely won them in 2016. He is trailing with them now. I did not see anything in the debate last night to win their support, given that the problem most of them have with Trump is not his policies but his style,” concluded Hollihan.
“The media likes to name a winner because it makes for an easy analysis point and is an easier way to process the event than to provide more nuanced assessments that take a variety of factors into consideration,” Vigil added. “However, the declared winner is not really very impactful on, or indicative of, the election outcome, because there are too many people declaring a winner based on too many disparate criteria.” Sanders said that the question of who won the debate gives some hint about the state of the race.
“The percentage favoring Biden as debate performer Tuesday night is about the same as the percentage favoring him over Trump for president,” she noted. “But as we know, the polls were wrong in 2016. It’s very hard to predict the outcome of the 2020 election at this point.”