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Do presidential debates usually matter? Political scientists say no.
Perhaps the most compelling evidence for the irrelevance of debates is that polling in past races hasn’t changed much at all following them. John Sides, a political scientist at GWU and official friend-of-the-blog, summarized the research on this in the Washington Monthly. He notes that a study by UNC’s James Stimson found few noticeable changes in polling after debates, and cites the work of Columbia’s Robert Erikson and Temple’s Christopher Wlezien, who focus on election forecasting using national polling.
Erikson and Wlezien find that there’s a “a fairly strong degree of continuity from before to after the debates.” Indeed, if you plot polls from before and after debates against each other, they line up very tightly.
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