October 4, 2012
On Wednesday, SMU hosted the first of a series of watch parties for the televised presidential debates, this one involving President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. Two more debates will be between Obama and Romney, and the fourth will be between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan.
After viewing the debate broadcasts, community members had an opportunity to participate in a public debate about the event. The SMU debate program moderated the event and provided a balloting opportunity for those in attendance.
The events are being sponsored by the Meadows School’s Division of Communication Studies.
The times and locations of the other events, which will follow a similar format, are:
- Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. in O’Donnell Auditorium (Room 2130) of Owen Arts Center, 6101 Bishop Blvd. this debate is between Biden and Ryan.
- Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. in Room 241 in Umphrey Lee Center, 3300 Dyer Street. This debate is between Obama and Romney.
- Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. in Room 241 in Umphrey Lee Center, 3300 Dyer Street. This debate is between Obama and Romney.
All events are free and open to the public.
In addition, SMU has assembled a team of experts to talk to the news media about the debates and the campaigns.
Spinning the Dials
SMU Professors Rita Kirk and Dan Schill were in Denver on Wednesday overseeing a group of participants recording immediate reactions to the debate by spinning dials that measure their minute-to-minute responses.
Kirk and Schill will conduct similar research at the other debates.
It's called Real Time Response and it does just that: It measures participants' reactions to the positions, posturing and in-fighting of the candidates almost as soon as the words leave their mouths.
About the Debates
By Ben Voth
SMU Communication Studies
Ben Voth is chair of SMU's Communication Studies division in Meadows School of the Arts. An expert in debate and persuasion, he is director of debate and speech programs at SMU.
Since at least 1960, when Kennedy and Nixon debated, millions of prospective voters have tuned in to their television sets to gain a relatively unmediated sense of the political options for the presidency.
It is possible and even probable that 60 million or more Americans may have watched the debate Wednesday night. The first debate is also of first importance among the four debate series. Typically, viewership of the debates falls by half for each debate during October.
By comparison, televised presidential debates tend to dwarf the political conventions that take place in August and September. Viewership of the conventions has been declining for some time and contracted considerably in 2012. This is not the case for the televised presidential debates.
The debates can make a huge difference for the two contestants. Since 1960, Gallup polling indicates noticeable persuasive effects. Only in 1984, did the October debates fail to produce a change in the polling of the two major candidates (Reagan and Mondale). Poll changes since 1960 range from 12 points for President Bush in 2000 to one point for President Bush Sr. in 1988.
The October 3 debate constituted the most significant communication opportunity for both President Obama and candidate Romney. Very few communication outlets offer a comparable audience.
As a matter of comparison, the Saturday Night Live skit about the debates on Saturday will likely attract about 3 million viewers. Saturday Night Live attracted its largest number of viewers in October of 2008 when Sarah Palin joined Tina Fey on the show. That show attracted 17 million viewers which is exponentially larger than the average viewership of the NBC comedy show.
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