Monday, September 26, 2016

US Presidential Debate 2016: Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump Showdown Targets Undecided Voters

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Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican rival Donald Trump face off on Monday in the first of a series of televised debates that could prove crucial to who wins the White House on Nov. 8. NBC’s Nightly News anchor Lester Holt will be the moderator. Divided into six 15-minute segments, the debate will cover three broad topics — America’s direction, achieving prosperity and securing America. With the debate set to break viewership records, both candidates will sense an opportunity to win over the undecided voter-base, which is unusually large this time around by US Presidential election standards.

The two-hour debate on Monday night in New York will be unlike any Hillay has faced in her primaries — in 2008 with Barack Obama and in 2016 with Bernie Sanders. Trump, who has hit out at his opponents in personal and insulting terms in the primary while skipping questions himself, has said he will respect Hillary as long as she respects him. But that red-line could be easily crossed, if what they have said about each other in public so far is any indication. The debate also marks the first time in election history where both candidates hold the dubious distinction of having low favorability ratings and an equally fair-share of detractors, whose criticisms cannot simply be brushed under the carpet.

In the latest Washington Post -ABC News opinion poll, Hillary seems to be clinging to a lead of only two percentage points, indicating an extremely close race. Trump, on the other hand, has the clear advantage of having more vocal and enthusiastic supporters by his side compared to his counterpart, who continues to carry the baggage of being an establishment candidate. Many Hillary supporters have not registered to vote, according to the latest polls. Among registered voters, 39 per cent view Hillary favourably while 57 per cent view her unfavourably. However, it is beyond doubt that she is highly qualified to take up the reins and despite all her political scars, she has shown an unusual capacity to reach across the aisle to find common ground with the Republican Party on many issues.

Those bracing for the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, to be held at Hofstra University on Long Island, may see a pattern emerging from past debates, and one that is more alarming for the Democrats than for the Trump camp. For the lessons of the Ronald Reagan debates, visible moments after they ended, was that a candidate can mangle facts and botch details and still win if a debate performance conveys a far simpler message: this is someone presidential. The average American voter may not fancy listening to truckloads of statistics and an overdose of verbose statements. Perhaps, it would be wise for both candidates to be mindful of that fact.

As the two least popular presidential nominees in the history of modern polling, Trump and Hillary need to fight not just with each other, but to slay, in single combat, monsters all of their own creation. It will be a virtual slugfest, if both of them adopts a strategy of deflecting the main issues and instead pile on the rhetoric against each other. One might think these TV debates are like fodder for populist candidates, who rely on their communication skills over fact-checking and can instantly change the course of an election. But, there is a growing body of political science research showing that contemporary press reports tend to overstate the importance of televised debates, which tend to nudge poll ratings by a few percentage points or less. But let’s not be mistaken. The power of television to fire the imagination and peddle exciting fantasies brought Trump to this point.

However, what academics call the fundamentals of the race—the economy is performing modestly well, the same party has held power for eight years, and naturally, neither sides being clear favorites —suggest a tie between a predictable Democrat and a wayward Republican. Hillary is the second-least-popular major-party candidate in modern history. The main reason she is ahead is that Trump is the first. But in the month since he hired Kellyanne Conway as his campaign manager, he has mostly avoided self-sabotage. If he can continue to do so, the election could remain the nail-biter that fundamentals have indicated all along. In any case, the idea that a landslide victory for Hillary would lead to the banishment of racial and cultural resentment from American politics is receding fast. And that seems to be the biggest takeway from this year’s election campaign.

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