Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

This site is archival. Please visit for up-to-date content.

MU expert available for media commentary on third Democratic presidential primary debate

September 12th, 2019

Story Contact: Eric Stann, 573-882-3346,

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.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— Thursday’s Democratic presidential primary debate televised on ABC will be the first time this year where only 10 Democratic candidates appear onstage on a single night, unlike the two previous debates where contenders appeared in different debates over a two-night span.

Mitchell S. McKinney, who is available to speak with reporters, is a professor of political communication at the University of Missouri. He is an internationally recognized scholar of presidential debates whose work in analyzing candidate debates has taken him around the world.

“This will be the first time that we’ll see the three leading Democratic candidates, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, appear side-by-side on the same debate stage,” said McKinney, who also serves as the director of the Political Communication Institute at MU. “Biden must deliver a strong performance if he hopes to maintain his front-runner status and perhaps impede recent gains made particularly by Elizabeth Warren. For Warren and Sanders, this debate will provide an opportunity to solidify support from among the more liberal voters within the party in order to challenge the current front-runner. Of course, the other contenders on the stage will also attempt to capitalize on a strong debate performance to gain attention and hopefully support.”

McKinney’s extensive research has focused particular attention on presidential primary debates, with his analysis indicating that a candidate’s debate performance at this formative stage of the campaign can greatly enhance — or hinder — one’s ability to emerge as the eventual nominee. McKinney’s work also has identified key debate strategies that candidates use to distinguish themselves from their party rivals and emerge from a large field of opponents.

McKinney has advised the Commission on Presidential Debates on how debates should be structured in order to better educate citizens on significant campaign issues. McKinney’s research was influential in the creation of the presidential town hall debate in 1992. He also served as an adviser to the 2002 presidential debate committee of South Korea as Seoul officials planned their first televised presidential debates.

In addition to advising international, national, state and local campaign debate planning committees, McKinney is the author or co-author of eight books, including “Presidential Debates in Focus,” and he has also published numerous research articles on presidential debates.