Candidate Debates Have Only Small, Temporary Impact, Political Scientist Says

Debates don't matter, except that the results contribute to a media narrative, says Michael Munger

As polls show Mitt Romney gaining on Barack Obama after last week's debate, and with the vice presidential candidates squaring off this week, a Duke political science professor discusses the importance of debates.

Michael MungerProfessor of political science, economics and public policy, Duke University munger@duke.edu (personal website)Specializes in congressional-presidential elections. Libertarian candidate for N.C. governor in 2008.  Quote:  "Debates don't matter, except that the results contribute to a media narrative.  Reagan was old and confused, until he zinged Mondale with that 'I refuse to make age an issue. I will not use my opponent's youth and experience against him!' line. After that, Reagan quickly became 'the Great Communicator.' Both views, the confused view and the Great Communicator view, were actually caricatures.  But the prevailing narrative can sometimes matter, and debates can sometimes affect the prevailing narrative."But the statistical evidence strongly suggests that the debates have only a small effect, and even that is temporary. And vice presidential debates don't matter, on stilts!"