The Debate Might Have Hurt Joe Biden Even More Than We Think

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The conventional wisdom in American politics has been that presidential debates don’t have much of an impact on elections.

Indeed, it seems each time the country is in another race for the White House, commentators and pollsters reaffirm the notion that debates do not decide outcomes. It has become almost as cliché as insisting every election is the most important our nation has ever had.

However, this current race might be different – at least when it comes to the former. President Joe Biden’s abysmal showing in Thursday’s debate against former President Donald Trump appears to have already harmed his numbers. However, it is too early to tell whether this damage will persist or if his campaign can turn things around.

Scientific American published a piece way back in 2020 highlighting the relationship between election outcomes and presidential debates. It referred to research conducted by Vincent Pons and Caroline Le Pennec, who analyzed 56 televised debates across various countries and found that the proceedings did little to sway public opinion on particular candidates. They also looked at other studies with similar findings.

Pons’s study is not the only one to conclude that debates do not, in fact, have an impact. Wlezien arrived at the same finding when he and Robert Erikson of Columbia University analyzed all available U.S. presidential election polls between 1952, when the first televised debate took place, and 2012. The best predictor for a candidate’s standing after a debate season, they found, is what it was before that person’s face-offs.

A variety of factors likely contribute to the ineffectiveness of presidential debates in helping individuals to decide how to vote. For starters, many of the people who take the time to watch debates are those heavily engaged in politics to begin with, Krupnikov says, so they have already committed to a particular candidate. In the U.S. especially, when an election actually takes place, candidates have been campaigning for months—giving Americans plenty of time to have already made up their mind. And even if something sensational does happen in a debate and causes a wider stir, the effects tend to be small and fade by the time of the election. “Debates are short-term events, so they have less effect on people’s choices,” Wlezien says. “These performances just get added into this giant pile of information.”

Nevertheless, it is difficult to find another debate performance as horrific as Biden’s. The president stumbled through the debate, struggling to make his points in a cogent manner while responding to Trump’s barbs. At times, he drifted off in the middle of sentences and appeared tired and weak.

Conversely, Trump was his usual Trumpian self, albeit a bit more subdued compared to his normal style. Still, he punched Biden during each round while easily swatting down most of Biden’s attacks. To put it simply, it was an utter massacre, and the polling appears to show that the public agrees.

Pennsylvania, Trump v. Biden, Kennedy, West, and Stein, a survey by Cygnal has Trump leading by four points. In a head-to-head match, Trump is likewise four points ahead.

But here’s the real interesting one: In New Hampshire, in a survey released Sunday by St. Ansel, Trump is leading Biden by two points, 44 to 42 — not a wide margin, but revealing, as the last New Hampshire survey, in May, had Biden leading Trump by four points; another in January had Biden ahead by seven.

Sunday’s head-to-head general election polls offer no comfort, as Harvard/Harris has Trump ahead by four points, although Morning Consult has him leading by only one.

Another poll gave Trump the lead by three points.

Republican Donald Trump has edged ahead of Democrat Joe Biden, 41% to 38%, in the aftermath of the candidates’ rancorous debate last week, according to an exclusive USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll.

That narrow advantage has opened since the previous survey in May showed the two contenders tied, 37% to 37%.

Democrats and their close friends and allies in the activist media appear to have given up on pretending Biden isn’t old and mentally declining. Indeed, the day after the debate, several media outlets published op-eds and reports floating the idea of replacing President Biden – even if it’s against his will.

Members of the left-wing chattering class certainly appear to believe that Biden could have cost himself another term in office with his debate performance, which would explain their desperate scrambling to install a new candidate.

However, a caveat worth mentioning: We still have plenty of time before November rolls around. Much could change between now and then. Trump is still facing a bevy of possibly damaging, albeit political, prosecution efforts. The Supreme Court may have just given him a reprieve of sorts with its recent ruling about presidential immunity, but he is not out of the woods just yet.

If Team Biden is smart, they will not allow their candidate to subject himself to another debate, which means there could be enough time for America’s short attention span to take effect while giving the Democrats more room to weaponize the legal system against his opponent. To sum it up, the debate caused significant damage to Biden’s campaign – but it did not necessarily guarantee a win for Trump.



Trending on RedState Videos