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Expert Available: MU Political Communication Expert Predicts Presidential Debates Will Likely Influence Outcome of 2016 Presidential Election

September 19th, 2016

Story Contact: Jeff Sossamon, 573-882-3346, sossamonj@missouri.edu

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.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – With polls showing presidential candidates Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump locked in a tight race, the first presidential debate on Sept. 26 could be a turning point in the 2016 election.

Mitchell S. McKinney, professor of communication at the University of Missouri and an internationally recognized scholar of presidential debates, suggests the Sept. 26 Clinton-Trump debate will most likely set a new record for the number of citizens viewing a televised presidential debate. He also notes the specific conditions necessary for debates to be influential in the outcome of an election are all in play. Key elements that increase the impact of presidential debates include:

  • Voters’ familiarity or comfort level with the candidates
  • How close the race remains at the outset of a debate series
  • The number of undecided or leaning voters
  • The strength — or weakness — of traditional party allegiances

This video is available for broadcast-quality download and re-use. Closed caption video is also available. For more information, contact Nathan Hurst: hurstn@missouri.edu 

“In my previous analysis I’ve found that debates were influential in other close presidential contests, including the elections of 1960, 1976, 1980 and 2000,” McKinney said. “Conditions once again are right for upcoming debates to be influential in the 2016 election.”

McKinney has conducted extensive research of presidential candidates’ debate performances, including the numerous primary debates that have included Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. McKinney also has examined male and female candidates engaged in “mixed gender” debates, and his previous analysis on this topic suggests that both Clinton and Trump face unique challenges in their head-to-head debates this fall.

In 1992, McKinney consulted with the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), advising the commission on the development of the Town Hall debate and also how debate formats could be structured in order to better educate citizens on significant campaign issues. The co-author of “The 1992 Presidential Debates in Focus,” he has co-authored and edited six other books and dozens of research articles on presidential debates. In 2002, he advised the presidential debate commission of South Korea as Seoul officials planned their televised presidential debates. Dr. McKinney is director of the Political Communication Institute at the University of Missouri (pci.missouri.edu).

Editor’s Note: For more on McKinney’s research and commentary, please see: “Subject to Debate

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