Candidates have dominated public discourse while the debates have had contrasting styles, adding to peoples variety of opinions.
Days before the first presidential debate, Gov. Romney was trailing President Obama by five points, as reported by Gallup. After the debate, the former Massachusetts governor had pulled even with Obama. The same poll found 70 percent of independents and 49 percent of Democrats thought Romney won the first debate.
After the second debate, Obama seemed to come out ahead of Romney, with 54 percent of independents and 9 percent of Republicans declaring Obama was the winner.
In this poll, Gallup found 54 percent of independents and 9 percent of Republicans thought President Obama won the second debate.
When it comes to getting votes during an election, the most important aspect of a televised debate is style, said Peter Marston, communication studies professor.
“Romney came off as informed and energetic in the first debate, so he was perceived as ‘winning,’” Marston said. “Obama stood his ground in the second debate while Romney appeared nitpicky, so Obama was perceived as ‘winning.’ The substance of the arguments were largely the same in both debates.”
James Mitchell, political science professor, said voters tend to be more interested on the positions of candidates.
“They seem to be looking more for style and whether or not they agree,” he said. “President Obama’s performance in the first debate shows that it does not pay to be gracious and respectful. He scored more points in the eyes of the voting majority in the second debate when he went on the offensive and attacked.”
Henrik Minassians, urban planning studies professor, added that people seem to wait for political analysts to give their input on what happened.
“We won’t know which candidate would win until the day after the election but I think that the political pundits are shaping public opinion by expressing their uninformed views and opinions,” Minassians said.
In addition to the way candidates debate, there may be a specific demeanor voters are watching for.
Marston said Romney showed a more appropriate demeanor in the first debate by being “confident, engaged (and) mostly polite,” whereas Obama was “lethargic, disengaged (and) petulant.
“In the second debate Obama’s demeanor was preferable to Romney’s, but not by much,” he said. “Both were dismissive, impatient, and sometimes just rude, especially about time allotment and debate rules. Playground stuff. Embarrassing.”
Minassians, on the other hand, said people look for candidates to be tough and debate well.
“I think the candidate should be more relaxed instead of being scripted by their speech writers and consultants,” Minassians said.
Mitchell said many tend to look at Al Gore’s performance from 2000.
“Candidates need to be aggressive whether they like it or not,” he said. “Many cite Al Gore’s debate performance in 2000 when he was a different Al Gore for each.”
There were many opinions about the different moderators between the debates.
Minassians said the purpose of moderators is to manage the time and ask questions, making sure the candidates answer.
“Do I think any did better than the other depends if I think the first moderator was fair to Mr. Obama and vice versa,” Minassians said. “I preferred the second moderator because she was more in their face and pushed them to answer questions.”
Marston found that Jim Lehrer and Candy Crowley approached the debates differently.
“In my opinion, Jim Lehrer, though widely criticized, did a good job of getting the candidates to address one another without rancor. It was, in my opinion, one of the most cogent Presidential Debates since Nixon-Kennedy,” he said. “Candy Crowley approached the candidates more assertively and the candidates became too contentious. I suppose it depends what political theatre you want to attend, but I found Lehrer’s approach more consistent with a deliberation for the highest U.S. office.”