Yesterday, heated Presidential Debates unfolded between the Incumbent 45th President of the United States Donald J. Trump, and former Vice President and Democratic Party Front-runner Joe Biden. The debate was characterized by frequent interruptions, name-calling, and policy issues like COVID-19, climate change, and the economy.
For many, the debates wouldn’t have moved the dial one way or the other. Trump supporters likely felt emboldened by the President’s attacks on Biden, while Biden supporters may have felt the former Vice President had more decorum. As such, Presidential debates are often a bid for the slither of undecided voters, though it still remains to be seen who the undecided’s will see as the victor.
However, if you put money on Trump winning the debates, and that money was predicated on the outcome of the CNN snap poll following the debate, you will have lost your money. According to the poll, 60% of viewers said Biden outperformed Trump in the first debate, while just 28% said Trump won. Granted, CNN itself is a left-leaning news organisation, and the results may have reflected a similar political alignment from the channel’s viewers.
Though if one grants that the CNN poll accurately and objectively reflects the outcome of the debate, Trump’s loss actually follows a historical precedent known as the “incumbents opening debate syndrome.”
This curse, of incumbents losing the first debate, has plagued several prior Presidents, such as Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and Barack Obama most recently against Mitt Romney in 2012.
On why precisely this occurs, Samuel Popkin, a political-science professor at the University of California stated in his book The Candidate: What It Takes to Win — and Hold — the White House, that:
“Nobody on staff ever questions a president’s motives and nobody around him ever challenges him.”
As such, it may be likely that Donald Trump’s aggressive tactic, combined with having not debated in such a setting since the 2016 primaries, likely contributed to what some perceived as a loss for him in these first debates.