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Expert Available: Final Debate Format Favors Obama, But Won’t Change Election Outcome, MU Expert Says

Oct. 22, 2012

Story Contact(s):
Christian Basi,, 573-882-4430

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

Mitchell McKinney, University of Missouri associate professor of communication in the College of Arts and Science, and internationally recognized scholar of presidential debates, analyzed Monday night’s third presidential debate.

“Four years ago, who would have thought that Barack Obama’s strength would be foreign policy?” Mitchell said. “Tonight, the President, as Commander-in-Chief, repeatedly stressed the themes of ‘strong and steady, careful and thoughtful.’”

  • What was different about this debate from the previous debates?
    Throughout this debate, Governor Romney seemed to articulate a number of foreign policies and approaches not much different from the current administration’s actions. Unlike past debates, Romney agreed with the President far more often than we heard in the first two debates – perhaps more agreement at any point throughout this long campaign. Romney was at his strongest, in this foreign policy debate, when discussing jobs and the economy.”
  • Did the round-table format affect the performances of the candidates?
    “The format tonight seemed to work in favor of Barack Obama and against Mitt Romney. Romney’s aggressive stance taken in the last two debates was more subdued tonight by the intimate environment of this round-table chat. On the other hand, Barack Obama’s “professorial” style seemed more suited to this more deliberative discussion.”
  • Will this debate affect the race?
    “This final Obama–Romney debate will not change this tied race. With two weeks until the election, both campaigns will now move on to wage the battle for votes in the air (with TV ads) and on the ground (get-out-the-vote efforts especially in the battleground states). We started this debate series with Barack Obama beginning to build a national lead (and also building leads in most of the battleground states). The president’s weak first debate performance allowed Romney to take the momentum in this race and reset the national polls to almost even. Barack Obama took the second debate with a stronger performance. While both campaigns will claim victory, Barack Obama’s overall performance, was stronger than Mitt Romney’s performance in this third and final round.”

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 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.