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FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2020, file photo Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question as President Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool, File) (AP)
FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2020, file photo Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question as President Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool, File) (AP)

Election debates don’t sway voters enough

  • Personal communication with voters is far more effective than televised presidential and PM debates, a study shows

Presidential debates draw a lot of hype in the US election season. But new research shows they hardly shape voter choices in the run-up to the polling day. Instead, personal outreach by candidates on the field as well as social media are far more effective.

The study by Caroline Le Pennec and Vincent Pons uses survey data from 62 elections that took place during 1952-2017 in 10 countries, including the US, the UK, and Germany. At least 17% voters were found to be influenced during the last two months of campaigning.

This number was more or less stable in the study period, but there was variation across countries. The US, for instance, had a far lower proportion of such voters.

Every respondent was interviewed twice—before and after the election. The two responses tend to become consistent as the day of the first interview gets closer to the election. The authors conclude that voters become information-rich and more certain about their choice with time.

The increase is higher for younger voters and those with no college degree—groups less likely to have pre-existing information. Those who vote for lesser-known candidates are more likely to make up their minds during the last 60 days than those who pick incumbents or ‘strong’ candidates.

Voters might, thus, be considering candidates’ attributes rather than merely going with the winning side at the last moment, the authors infer.

An analysis of 56 presidential or prime ministerial debates from seven countries shows that even though 65% respondents watched them, there was little impact on voting choices, policy preferences, and views on issues or candidates.

As voters tend to get influenced by campaigning information, it is possible that the medium plays a role here. Door-to-door or town hall meetings seem more effective in persuading voters.

Also read: How Do Campaigns Shape Vote Choice?

Snap Fact features new and interesting reads from the world of research.

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