Expert of the Week: UA Professors weighs in on first presidential debate

Expert of the Week: UA Professors weighs in on first presidential debate

Photo courtesy of George Hawley

With over 80 million viewers reported by CNN, the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton set a new record for the most watched presidential debate ever. However, the estimate of 80 million viewers does not account for online streaming, so the real figure is even higher. The previous record holder of highest viewership was the 1980 debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

The debate topics were centered around the themes of "America's direction, achieving prosperity, and securing America," as the Commission on Presidential Debates announced a week prior. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer each question and convince viewers that he or she had the better answer.

UA Political Science Assistant Professor George Hawley watched the debate intently. Hawley earned his Ph.D in political science at the University of Houston and does research on demography, electoral behavior, political parties, immigration policy and the conservative movement in America.

“My suspicion is that this this debate is not going to change very much,” Hawley said. “Neither candidate did great, but no one committed a campaign ending gaff.”

Varying online polls show that different audiences had opposing views on who won the debate. Clinton won CNN's poll with 62 percent support, while 50 percent of voters in a Fox News poll believed that Trump won.

Hawley said Clinton won on points and resonating with the audience. However, he was not convinced that her demeanor in doing so “matters very much.”

Historically, debates do not typically correlate with significant shifts in the polls, Hawley said, “They do serve a purpose in reintroducing the public to candidates that they may not have been paying attention to in the gap between the conventions and the first debate.”

Hawley acknowledges that this year has been different than previous election years, but said that nothing unexpected happened at the debate. He said that both candidates had different goals to achieve. Trump and Clinton’s goals were to convey different aspects of their character. Trump was trying to present himself as “serious, presidential and non-threatening,” while Clinton tried to appear “strong, healthy and in command.”

Clinton and Trump both struggle with favorability. A Gallup poll from August had Clinton's favorability with Americans at 39 percent and Trump's at 32. This low favorability has been used by third party candidates to ask to be invited on to the stage as well. On the night of the debate, Gary Johnson, presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, tweeted, “Please, America. Get them to put a third podium on that debate stage on 10/9.”

In reference to a third party candidate being invited to future debates, Hawley said, “Neither Jill Stein nor Gary Johnson are serious contenders in the polls, so I understand the logic of excluding them.”

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