Presidential debates make for compelling theater and high TV ratings. But do they actually sway votes?
The statistics say no. A University of North Carolina study – referenced in today’s Washington Post – shows that presidential debates do little to change voters’ minds one way or another. By the time the debates roll around every fourth October – one month before the election – most voters have already decided who they want to be president.
There are exceptions, of course. The first-ever televised presidential debate – between a dapper, young-looking John F. Kennedy and a more weathered, older-looking Richard Nixon in 1960 – was the most famous example. But for the most part, presidential debates amount to little more than a sideshow on the road to the November election.
So if voters aren’t impacted by debates, then the effect on the stock market is probably negligible.
Tonight marks the first of three debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The give and take is sure to be entertaining and probably more combative than, say, the pleasantries George W. Bush and Al Gore exchanged prior to the (infamous) 2000 election.
But no matter what is said – whatever grand promises to turn around the slumping U.S. economy either candidate makes – it probably won’t move the needle much on Wall Street come tomorrow morning.
Because if the candidates can’t influence your vote through debates, they probably won’t be able to change how you vote, either.