While pundits called the Wednesday presidential debate a game changer and discussed Mitt Romney’s body language, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor warned the face-off likely will have little sway in the way Americans vote.
“Political science research shows, despite the spin, that debates don’t tend to be game changers,” said Assistant Professor Dona-Gene Mitchell, the author of a recent article published in American Journal of Political Science on the effects of information during campaigns.
Barring a serious gaffe, history has shown voter poll results simply don’t change much following debates, and for most voters, debates are a chance to reinforce preferences based on partisanship, she said.
Game changing debate slip-ups rarely happen, Mitchell said, especially in modern presidential politics as candidates have months to prepare and go through extensive preparations.
She said both candidates looked smart without seeming to be policy wonks and assertive without being aggressive enough to offend viewers.
Lincoln East High School teacher Matt Davis, who has taught speech and debate for 25 years, agreed both President Barack Obama and Romney showed a practiced ease in front of the cameras.
“I thought they both debated well. To be perfectly blunt, I though Romney did a better job than I would have predicted him to do,” Davis said.
Davis said the former governor of Massachusetts came off more natural and less stiff than he has during past nationally televised events, including his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
But Davis said he couldn’t pick a clear winner.
“It is really hard for a debate coach to watch a presidential debate, because it is not what we know as debate. They are talking past each other,” he said. “Both guys annoyed me a little bit, frankly, by not adhering to the time limit.”
Mitchell also is the author of "Fault Lines: Why the Republicans lost Congress," a look at the midterm elections of 2006.