Political debates have an indirect effect, “The audience already has an opinion”

Political debates have an indirect effect, “The audience already has an opinion”

“You are crazy and not fair,” Jan Peter Balkenende told Wouter Bos in 2006. “Now you’re doing it again,” Diederik Samsom told Mark Rutte in 2012. Two minutes from the discussion of the party leaders that significantly affected the course of the elections. Or not? How much influence do television debates really have on people’s final votes?

It’s negligible in most cases, says new research from Harvard Business School. The two political economists examined 62 US and European elections and found that, on average, televised debates had “no effect” on voter preferences. Even when NOS presented them with the Dutch example, they were adamant: “Although there was an average effect, the discussions in our study did not help determine their choice for any electoral group.”

floating converter

The study shows that between 17 and 29 percent of voters did not have a final choice two months before the election. This group is mainly based on their impressions of candidates and their views on certain social issues. But ask them just before and right after a televised discussion, and whether it’s in the US, the Netherlands or Italy, you won’t find any significant difference.

This is easy to understand, says Claes de Vreese, Professor of Political Communication at the University of Amsterdam: “Most studies show that television debates have little impact. Those who watch such debates usually have an idea of ​​what they want to vote for.”

But that doesn’t mean the debates don’t have any impact, says De Vreese. First, most such research is done only in the United States, where the two sides are seriously competing. “The average voter doesn’t just switch between Republicans and Democrats,” he says. “In the Netherlands, people can switch more easily within the same pond. For example, GroenLinks to D66.”

All kinds of discussions in the media, on social media, and among people arise around discussion. “They reach a wider audience, but also a different audience. Also, the media has a strong tendency to announce winners and losers. This message also reaches a much wider audience.” And the perception of who the winner is affects voter choice.

philosophical question

This may also explain why television debates seemed to have a huge impact on people’s voting behavior during the 2012 election: there was a clear winner and a loser. But what ultimately decides what people choose: debate or reporting? “After all, it’s a philosophical question,” De Vreese says. The two of them can hardly be separated on the course.”

Source: NOS