Today, US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will take the stage for their first-ever direct debate. However, the media coverage you watch later may have a stronger impact on how you perceive the candidates afterwards.
As political news site Vox explains, historically debates don’t always have the strongest effect on the outcome of elections. Since televised debates began, most polls don’t show a very big change after the debates air (and when they do, it’s unclear if the debate was the cause, or just a coincidence). On the other hand, how media covers a debate can have a huge impact on how those viewers perceive the debate’s results.
This can happen because, even if journalists attempt unbiased reporting, they still tend to focus on just a few “moments”. Two candidates respectfully disagreeing and establishing their points of view isn’t as interesting as a gaffe, or a “slam”. Journalists talking together about the event can also cause an unconscious bias:
Now, depending on how high your estimation of the media is, you might think that the media’s view of what happened will bear at least some resemblance to what actually happened. But the media often chooses to pull out and focus on just a few “moments” of a 90-minute long event. And groupthink can be a powerful force, particularly when journalists are all reading each other’s Twitter feeds.
Now, this isn’t necessarily all bad. Oftentimes parts of a debate become a “moment” because they’re worth talking about, and there’s nothing wrong with journalists weighing in on a topic everyone is discussing. However, it’s important to know that if you’re only checking out the debate through the eyes of a news organisation, you’re probably only getting part of the story. Today’s debate will be available to Do presidential debates matter? Here’s the political science evidence. [Vox]