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How Can You Tell Who Wins a Presidential Debate?

Good leadership is not dependent upon good public speaking skills.
Winners of a presidential debate may be left to personal interpretation and opinion.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2014
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It may be difficult to tell who wins a presidential debate in many instances. Often, the candidates are quite close and both perform well, and the media is usually quick to proclaim a winner, which may then be refuted by public opinion and the candidates themselves. Deciding who wins a presidential debate may come down to your personal view, or you may be more objective and decide that even if you don’t like the winner, they did seem more effective. Many media outlets take snap polls directly after debates to determine the winner, but subsequent review of the debate by pundits may quickly change the results of them.

Sometimes a presidential debate will be scored by some reviewers on a point system. The debate may be segmented into each section of questions or issues, with people deciding who won each particular segment or issue. Yet it’s hard to determine criteria on what constitutes a win. Some of the following questions might be asked to determine the winner:

    Is the candidate who gets in a pithy or memorable comment the winner?
    Does one candidate make mistakes or seem notably flustered?
    Do both candidates forget things or perform poorly with no clear difference?
    Who best explained his/her position?

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Another issue, especially in modern times, is the way in which a presidential debate is viewed. A television audience or someone reading a transcript of a debate may have a completely different opinion of who won than a person actually attending the debate and watching the debate from a short distance away. Other factors unrelated to the actual content of the debate can also play a part in determining the winner. A candidate who isn’t that great a speaker, but who is more likable or affable, may be declared the winner. One candidate may look or sound more “presidential” and inspire confidence.

Criteria for what constitutes winning may also be different according to each candidate. Poor speakers could consider a presidential debate a win if they show up and don’t make any major gaffes. Excellent speakers might be looking for a win by being able to clearly elucidate their contrast to another candidate. In the end, so many factors may determine wins or losses, and not all of these are directly measurable or constant. The winner may perhaps be the candidate who wins the election, though clear winners of debates don’t always become president.

Perhaps a more important consideration for the average viewer and especially the average voter is to view each presidential debate with an eye to deciding which candidate best fits your requirements for president. It’s wise to not rely on their speeches alone to make this determination. After debates, use independent fact checking sites and organizations to see which candidate presented their case truthfully, since candidates may inflate their own political worth or may make untruthful claims.

It can help to listen to pundit analysis of debates, but if you’re trying to make an objective choice, be aware that media bias exists. It can also help to read full text of debates to determine which candidate was clearer. Poor public speaking skills don’t necessarily mean a person will be a bad president, and good public speaking skills don’t always translate to good leadership.

Remember too that a presidential debate is just one measure of a candidate’s potential worth as a president. Check out candidate websites instead of relying on media sound bytes or debates. You will often get a much clearer explanation of what a person intends to do as president if you read their full plans, which are normally available on their websites.

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