As early voting begins, third debate might be too late to change voters’ opinions

President Donald Trump looks on during a break in an NBC News Town Hall on Thursday at Perez Art Museum, Miami. Associated Press

By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer

As of Thursday morning, over 1 million Texans have cast their votes for the 2020 Presidential election. After the cancellation of Thursday’s debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, some fear that the last debate is too late in the cycle to impact voters.

The last debate is slated for the October 22.

Dr. Dwight Allman, associate professor of political science, said he believes a significant number of people will have already voted by the time this second debate comes around.

“We’ve got early voting going on all across the country and including here in Texas,” Allman said. “We started voting earlier in Texas this year than per usual, because of the pandemic.”

As Biden is currently leading in the polls, Allman said he doesn’t believe this move to cancel the debate was an intentional political move by Trump.

“It’s Trump’s team, not Biden’s team, who has more an interest in the head-to-head contest and confrontation, in hopes of moving the needle, so to speak, in his favor,” Allman said.

However, Dr. David Smith, senior lecturer in the history department, said that as the debate was scheduled to be a town hall style, its cancellation may benefit Trump.

“Trump supporters have a higher approval rating of Trump in non-town hall formats, and undecideds also typically think that Trump does better in a non-town hall format,” Smith said. “And Biden tends to do well in those types of debates.”

However, in place of a town hall debate together, both candidates decided to host separate town halls on Thursday evening.

Biden originally planned this event with ABC when news broke that the debate would be postponed. Trump followed shortly after, scheduling his town hall for the same day, at the same time, on NBC.

“It makes it necessary for voters to kind of choose,” Allman said. “And it sets up a kind of ratings competition which I think is kind of counterproductive in terms of the political aims of these events.”

Biden’s will last 90 minutes and Trump’s will last one hour.

Rebecca Morin of USA Today wrote in an article that Grant Reeher, political science professor at Syracuse University, believes Trump will target Americans at different income levels in order to raise doubt about a Biden presidency and cause them to second guess.

Reeher also believes that Biden will aim to raise doubt among voters by targeting Trump’s response to the coronavirus.

Allman said he doesn’t think the separate town hall events will impact voter leanings or impact voter changes.

“There’s very few Americans, at this point, who define themselves as undecided or leaning one way or another but not yet ready to say exactly where they’re going to cast their vote,” Allman said. “Something less than 5% of pollsters find of the electorate is in that boat, so that’s not a lot of room.”

The first debate on Sept. 29 caused concern among voters as each candidate took to personal attacks over political policy.

Dr. Matthew Gerber, associate professor of communication & director of debate, said that he doesn’t believe that the first debate changed anyone’s mind either.

“Both sides were able to claim victory after the first debate, same thing that would’ve happened with the second debate,” Gerber said. “Because these aren’t policy debates — these are name-calling events. I don’t know that the public discourse in America will suffer because the second debate was canceled.”

Gerber said that debates are important for democracy as they create an informed public that is able to deliberate about big issues that impact the country.

“But what’s lacking today is that aspect of civility and mutual respect that allows those debates to flourish,” Gerber said. “So often, ‘debates’ degenerate into name calling and ad hominem attacks, arguments that aren’t about the policy issues.”

Smith, however, states that historically, due to the extended amount of time between debates and election day, he feels debates have not been extremely effective.

“News cycles are just so short and within a couple days — within a week — most people have moved onto something new that’s influencing the likelihood of them voting for one candidate or the other,” Smith said.