What The Heck Does ‘Winning’ A Debate Even Mean?

From FiveThirtyEight:

In this week’s politics chat, we preview the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, scheduled for Monday. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): This is our last weekly politics chat before the first presidential debate, so Tuesday’s question for your consideration is: Who will win the first presidential debate? We obviously can’t answer this, but it’s a useful frame to talk about each candidate’s strategies and strengths and weaknesses.

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Television executives will win the first debate.

micah: That seems very likely. To get us going, let’s talk about how “winning” or “losing” a debate tends to manifest itself in the polls. How much can debates move the needle? (Or, at least, how much have they moved the needle historically?)

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): By recent standards, a 3 or 4 percentage point shift in the polls — which might be more of a “bounce” than something permanent, i.e., it could recede — would be on the high end.

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): The most obvious example of a debate truly moving the needle is in 1980. Independent candidate John Anderson put in a poor performance in the first debate against Ronald Reagan (without Jimmy Carter), and fell in the polls. Then Carter did the same against Reagan in the second debate, right before the election, and fell too.

clare.malone: Are debate bounces like convention bounces? Do they fade? (Like a cool haircut or chemical love.)

natesilver: They can, certainly. Mitt Romney’s did in 2012.

Also, there might be a tendency for the media to declare whoever “won” the first debate to have “lost” the second or third debate.

clare.malone: Is there anyone who just …

Continue Reading