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MU Political Communication Expert Says Proposed

McCain - Obama Town Hall Debates Could Encourage Younger Voters

June 9, 2008

Story Contact:  Bryan E. Jones, (573) 882-9144,
Mitchell S. McKinney, (573) 882-9230 (office),

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Sen. John McCain has proposed a series of town hall debates with Sen. Barack Obama, who has characterized McCain’s proposal as a “great idea.” While political strategists and media pundits are busy pondering which candidate is best served by such encounters, research by a University of Missouri presidential debate expert, reveals that citizens may be the greatest beneficiaries of these debates and the approach could encourage more participation from younger voters.
            Mitchell McKinney, associate professor of communication at MU, has analyzed the role and effects of citizens questioning candidates during debates.
            His research shows:

• When citizens question candidates during town hall debates, their questions are fundamentally different than those used by journalists.

• Debates in which citizens are involved as questioners result in less candidate clash and also elicit more direct candidate responses.

• Viewers of debates in which questions are asked by citizens report greater learning and higher levels of interest in the campaign.
            McKinney’s research also shows that candidate forums and debates that involve innovations such as the use of video segments and Internet questions are particularly effective for reaching younger voters.
            McKinney has conducted extensive research of various candidates’ debate performances, including the numerous Democratic and Republican primary debates that featured both Barack Obama and John McCain.
            In 1992, McKinney consulted with the Commission on Presidential Debates, advising the Commission on how debates could be structured in order to better educate citizens on significant campaign issues. The co-author of The 1992 Presidential Debates in Focus, he also has co-authored and edited four other books and numerous research articles on presidential debates. Most recently, he advised the presidential debate committee of South Korea as Seoul officials planned their 2002 televised presidential debates.
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