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Cast Your Vote: Did the Presidential Debates Make an Impact?

Saturday, October 22, 2016 12:14
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  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the third presidential debate. (Screen shot via Politico)

On Friday morning, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump tweeted, “The results are in on the final debate and it is almost unanimous, I WON!” His remarks came two days after the third and final presidential debate between Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

After each debate, the media, political pundits and swarms of internet commenters have been quick to decide the “winner” of the night’s exchange. While there is no shortage of analysis, ultimately it’s hard to tell whether the debates have made an impact.

Let’s take a look at the content of Wednesday’s debate. Truthdig contributor Bill Blum summed up the feelings of many viewers with his comments:

The best thing I can say about the third and final presidential debate is that it’s over. I feel like I need a good shower. … We are left in this election with a choice (sorry, my fellow progressives, Jill Stein isn’t going to win) between a malignant, narcissistic protofascist and a lying neoliberal warmonger.

Truthdig’s Managing Editor Eric Ortiz, who ran our debate live blog, expressed similar sentiments. “Who won? Not the American people,” he wrote. “The Democratic and Republican options this year both have serious flaws. It will be a hold-your-nose-and-vote kind of election year for a lot of people.”

Truthdig contributor Sonali Kolhatkar, who was in Las Vegas on the night of the debate, expanded upon the criticism of Clinton and Trump’s exchange. “Although the debate lasted an hour and a half and covered a range of issues, in actuality, the focus was extremely limited,” she argued. “Had Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein been allowed to debate Trump and Clinton, she surely would have raised the issue of overspending on the military.”

This brings us to what many see as the downfall of this year’s election season: the lack of third-party inclusion. Kolhatkar explained how many students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, were let down:

After the debate ended, UNLV honors student and biology major Joel Jiminez told me he disliked that the candidates seemed to be “focusing on their own personal issues, and … not talking about the actual issues that we care about.” He wished there were more options and that third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein had been allowed to participate.

The Green Party certainly is trying to change this closed-off process in future elections. Truthdig Associate Editor Alexander Kelly spoke with Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential nominee, earlier this week. “We not only have a right to vote; we have a right to know who we can vote for, and that means we need to open up the debates,” Stein said. These kinds of changes may come about if voters tune into social media—think Stein’s online “debate” on Facebook—and also give the Green Party support on Nov. 8.

“Right now, according to the polls, we are near the threshold for achieving major-party status,” Stein continued. “If we get 5 percent” of the vote, she said, it will open up opportunities for the Green Party in the future, by providing the party with funds and giving it access to the ballots. Green Party vice presidential nominee Ajamu Baraka elaborated on this in an interview earlier this week: “Five percent of the vote is really important for us.”

For many Americans, however, the presidential debates may have been a deciding factor in how to vote. Wednesday’s debate attracted the third-most number of viewers in the history of presidential debates. (Clinton and Trump’s first debate is the record holder.) This is important because, according to Vox, “debates have the potential to make a small but real impact on the race.” Clinton has continued to gain an advantage over Trump in the polls over the last few months, although Trump’s inappropriate comments are likely to blame for his opponent’s new lead.

The hall for the second,  “town-hall” style debate was filled with undecided voters. Anecdotal evidence shows that even after the third and final debate, many undecided voters were still unsure, and news outlets reported conflicting results. MSNBC, for example, aired a segment in which a Democratic strategist stated that Trump’s performance Wednesday night “may have sabotaged his last remaining opportunity to sway those coveted undecided voters,” while a CNN focus group of undecided voters chose “Donald Trump as the winner of the third debate, by a margin of 10-5.”

Based on a poll we conducted at the end of August, a majority of our readers overwhelmingly prefer Stein for president. But regardless of your own political choice, we want to hear from you. Did you watch the presidential debates? If so, do you think the debates had the power to sway undecided voters—or were they just a “reality show” and a “big mockery”?

Let us know in the poll below. One vote per person, please. (Make your selection and then click on “Vote.” To see results of the polling, click on “Results.”)

Do you think the debates had the power to sway undecided voters?

—Posted by Emma Niles

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