The effect of the presidential debates on the American public

    Illustration by Steph Shapiro / North by Northwestern.

    President Barack Obama and former Massachusets governor Mitt Romney devoted four and a half hours to debating on live television and even more time to preparing for these debates. But was the time worth the effort? Several online polls show that it was with numbers significantly different when comparing Romney and Obama than they were from before October. More than just garnering support for one candidate or another, the debates have changed the way the public views politics as whole – regardless of party.

    Closer numbers

    According to Huffington Post's poll, the candidates are closer than ever with 47 percent for Obama and 47 percent for Romney, which is extrememly surprising considering the data over the past year. Last month, Obama was up by about three points, and even over the summer Obama was leading by one or two points. With Romney coming out strong in the first debate, the numbers have since come closer and closer. One thing to note is that this poll didn't account for Monday night's debate, but neither candidate had a strong enough performance to make a difference. With a 47 percent to 47 percent tie, Obama still isn't losing, but it's unfortunate that he lost his lead with the election just two weeks away.

    Swing states

    Florida and Ohio are the most important swing states for the candidates to focus on because if one candidate wins both states, they'll have the election. Surprisingly, poll taken recently in Florida shows Romney in the lead. For months, Obama has been leading Romney in Florida's poll asking Floridians who they will vote for. However, on Oct. 3 – the date of the first presidential debate – Romney took the lead by 0.1 percent. Since then, he has been steadily ahead and is now leading by 0.9 percentage points.  

    On the other hand, Ohio is leaning toward Obama right now. However, the margin between Obama and Romney is miniscule – the candidates are separated by just 2.1 percentage points. Obama has already been heavily campaining in Ohio by going to Ohio University last week and Dayton on Oct. 23, but he'll have to continue to keep the state's support in these next weeks. If Obama wins Ohio, he is almost guarunteed another term in office.

    Trusting candidates

    Additionally, the polls have helped voters trust their candidates more, which is relevant regardless of who wins. Both candidates had an increase in the number of constituents who would trust them to handle an international crisis, Obama's being the larger jump from 58 percent to 71 percent. The debates may not be persuading people to vote one way or another, but they do provide a way through which Americans are starting to learn more about their candidates and trust them, as much as you can trust a politician.

    Another statistic that many find shocking is that 47 percent of registered voters stated that the debates did not change the way they planned to vote. This shouldn't be so surprising, though; numerous people watch the debates knowing who they're voting for, and some even, have already voted. The sole purpose of the debates isn't just to gain voters — they are also another method for candidates to share their ideas and help constituents understand who they are and how they feel. Both candidates were successful in sharing their platforms and creating a clearer image of themselves, and for that reason, debates will always be important.


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