Q&A of the Day – Do Debates Matter? 

Today’s entry: Brian, for all of the debate about debates...how many people this day in age really 1. pay attention to these debates 2. are undecided in a way that might be influenced by them? I doubt the Rubio, Demings debate matters. 

Bottom Line: It’s a valid question. And it’s not lost on the political candidates. This cycle will feature the fewest debates between major party candidates post-World War II. Polls suggest there are fewer undecided voters than there used to be. At the same time there are more distractions for Americans than there used to be, thus far fewer voters typically see or hear debates. And increasingly debates have been shied away from by candidates who perceive their position as safe, as they feel they may have nothing to gain by participating and would prefer not to give their opponent an opportunity to show them up. For all of these questions, though. There are finite answers to them. It’s a topic I’ve addressed in presidential election cycles in discussing the impact of Presidental debates. I’ll start there because obviously they’re the highest profile and most closely watched. 

Here’s the range of impact in the polls of the first Presidential debate, which has historically had the biggest impact, one week later:  

Smallest impact:  

  • Bush vs. Clinton 1992: 0.6%  

Largest impact:  

  • Obama vs. Romney 2012: 5%  

The average impact has been 2.6%. Now, 2.6% in especially tight races matters. But at the same time, it's also an indication that even historically, without as many distractions, the impact of debates has been perhaps smaller than some might have expected. So, what’s the view of the possible in the Rubio – Demings’ race for Senate? I’ll break it down for you. 

An average of all political polls currently suggests 88.3% of voters have already decided their voting for either Val Demings or Marco Rubio (with Rubio averaging a 4.7% lead in those polls). Historically, 3.7% of Florida’s voters have broken for a third-party candidate in Florida’s senate races. Using that as a guide, it leaves 8% of Florida’s voters who hadn’t pledged support to any candidate in that race heading into the debate – a number that’s exactly, to the tenth of a percent, in-line with the historical average prior to a first debate in a race. And so that’s the potential pool of voters which could be influenced by the Rubio – Demings’ debate specifically. Now in a race where Rubio’s shown with a near five-point lead, the margin of late breakers is enough to potentially swing the election, if were Demings to have wiped the floor with him. At the same time, a great performance by Rubio would have the potential to turn the race from being somewhat close into a blowout.  

Now what’s also important to remember is that a debate’s perceived “winner” is in the eyes of the beholder. And there may be specific issues that matter most independent of how a debate seemingly goes which drives the votes of those genuinely influenced by them. So, the bottom line is that while there aren’t many undecided or truly independent voters this late in cycles, typically just around 8%, as is the case in Florida’s Senate race, they do still have the potential to swing especially close races. Now notably, with Florida’s Governors’ race set to be debated on Monday... The current margin of Governor DeSantis’ lead is larger than the pool of undecided voters in that race. It’s highly unlikely Crist could accomplish anything in that debate which would result in a different outcome. That said, there is one of the highest profile races in this country this cycle which may be decided based on a debate performance. The Georgia Senate race where Herschel Walker’s stronger-than-expected performance provided an immediate boost to his campaign. It’s already reflected in the polls. So yes, debates do still matter in close races, and its possible control of the Senate will have proven to be decided on a debate performance this cycle.  

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.  

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com  

Gettr, Parler & Twitter: @brianmuddradio  

iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.   

Document: Getty Images

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