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EXPERT AVAILABLE: MU Expert Available for Media Commentary on Republican Presidential Primary Debate

July 30th, 2015

Story Contacts: Jeff Sossamon, 573-882-3346,
Mitchell McKinney, (573) 882-9230; (573) 489-9709,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

On Thursday, August 6, the first Republican presidential primary debate will take place in Cleveland, Ohio and broadcast nationally by Fox News. This debate will offer the candidates their first opportunity before a national audience, and voters their first chance to assess the Republican candidates side by side as they seek their party’s 2016 presidential nomination.

Mitchell S. McKinney, noted professor of political communication at the University of Missouri, is a nationally and internationally recognized scholar of presidential debates whose work in analyzing candidate debates has taken him across the country and the world. McKinney is also Director of the Political Communication Institute at MU.

McKinney’s research has focused particular attention on presidential primary debates, with his analysis indicating that a candidate’s debate performance at this formative stage of the campaign can greatly enhance – or hinder – one’s ability to emerge as the eventual nominee. His research concluded candidates approach their primary debate performances much differently than candidates engaged in general-election debates, and viewers actually find these early debate encounters much more useful than those presidential debates that occur toward the end of a long campaign.

McKinney’s extensive research on presidential primary debates provides answers to such questions as:

  • In a debate that features a large field of candidates, how do viewers make distinctions between candidates of the same party whose issue positions may be similar? McKinney points out that candidate image becomes an even more prominent selection cue for primary debate viewers.
  • How do candidates emerge from a large field of candidates to distinguish themselves from their rivals? McKinney notes the difficult and often sensitive attack strategies that primary candidates must employ when clashing with their opponents while at the same time attempting to maintain some sense of party loyalty and unity.
  • How do primary debates help a party and its voters address the key issue of candidate electability, determining which of a party’s potential nominees might be the strongest candidate in the general election? McKinney points out that Republicans will use their several months of primary debates to test which of the Republicans is best suited to take on the most likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in the fall of 2016.
  • How do early primary debates help organize a large field of candidates into the front runners, the contenders, and the also-rans?In 1992, McKinney consulted with the Commission on Presidential Debates, advising the Commission on how debates could be structured in order to better educate citizens on significant campaign issues. McKinney’s research was influential in the creation of the presidential town hall debate. He also served as an advisor to the presidential debate committee of South Korea in 2002 as Seoul officials planned their very first televised presidential debates.

In addition to advising international, national, state and local campaign debate planning committees, McKinney is the co-author of Presidential Debates in Focus, and he has co-authored and edited a number of other books and numerous research articles on presidential debates.