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Expert Available: MU Expert Says Viewers Will Receive Greatest Benefit in Presidential Town Hall Debate

October 6th, 2016

Story Contact: Jeff Sossamon, 573-882-3346,

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.

Story Contact: Mitchell S. McKinney, 573-882-6677 (office), 573-489-9709 (cell)

COLUMBIA, Mo. – On Sunday night, debate experts from the University of Missouri will help put the debate in context concerning how it will impact viewers at home and provide an historical context for this debate compared to previous debates.

While political strategists and media pundits are busy pondering which candidate is best served by such encounters, Mitchell McKinney, MU professor of communication and an internationally and nationally recognized presidential debate expert, says that citizens at home viewing the debate may be the greatest beneficiaries.
Based on McKinney’s research analysis of the roles and effects of citizens’ questioning of candidates during debates, he notes the following:

  • Citizens questions are fundamentally different than those asked by journalists;
  • Town Hall debates typically result in less candidate clash and elicit more direct candidate responses;
  • Viewers of debates in which citizens ask questions report greater learning and higher levels of interest in the ongoing campaign.

McKinney says that candidate forums and debates involving technology, such as video segments and the Internet, are particularly effective in reaching younger voters.

McKinney has conducted extensive research of various candidates’ debate performances, including this year’s presidential and vice presidential debates as well as the numerous Democratic and Republican primary debates.

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. The co-author of “The 1992 Presidential Debates in Focus,” he also has co-authored and edited seven other books and numerous research articles on presidential debates. Most recently, he advised the presidential debate committee of South Korea as Seoul officials planned their 2002 televised presidential debates.