With the presidential election weeks away, the two main candidates, democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and republican nominee Donald Trump, are squaring off in a series of debates leading up to the election on Nov. 8. The first of these debates aired on all major networks on Monday, Sept. 26. Lester Holt, the host of NBC Nightly News, moderated the event.
The event consisted of three topics divided into two fifteen-minute sections each. The topics, chosen by Holt, were titled “America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity,” and “Securing America.” A variety of questions were raised on a variety of subjects, including plans to combat ISIS, increasing safety in American neighborhoods, and what perspectives each candidate could uniquely bring to the White House.
The debate lasted for an hour and a half, with both candidates using both outside reports and personal attacks to qualify themselves and disqualify their opponent. The debate did very little to change the views of those who already chose their candidate, but the debate had a very large effect on those voters who were on the fence. Most of the polls taken immediately following the debate showed Clinton to be the winner, and that momentum carried on to help her in polls across the nation. FiveThirtyEight, a polling conglomerate specializing in U.S. elections, shows that if the election were held today, Clinton would have a 66% chance of winning, compared with the 52% chance she held prior to the debate.
The two candidates had starkly different strategies in preparing for Monday’s debate. Clinton, known for having a thoroughly calculated campaign, spent an entire week studying videos of Trump debating in the primaries, analyzing his style, and coming up with retorts to claims he’s made in the past. ABC News reported on September 21 that the Clinton campaign voiced its concerns about moderators holding her to a different standard in terms of the difficulty of questions, arguing that the media in general holds Trump to a different standard than other candidates. Trump, on the other hand, spent the week before the debate on the campaign trail and declined to participate in mock debates. The New York Times reported that his campaign urged him to talk about big picture ideas instead of policy minutiae, “since most viewers will not remember them in an hour.”
Circumstances of the debates during the presidential primaries are raising concerns among debate moderators who are charged with maintaining nonpartisan professionalism. During the republican primary, Trump announced that he would not participate in a debate on March 21 due to a personal disagreement with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. As a result, John Kasich declined to participate, and the debate was cancelled. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump’s unpredictable nature is worrisome to those that moderate the debates, as well as the networks who host them.
A town hall meeting debate is scheduled for Sunday, October 9, and the final debate is scheduled for Wednesday, October 19.