With the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney taking place Wednesday night, some may wonder about the importance of the debates to the American people and the election.
“Debates are key events particularly for undecided voters in this election cycle who are persuadable at this point,” said Mark Rozell, professor of Public Policy at George Mason University in Fairfax.
The debate, on domestic policy, airs live at 9 p.m. ET from the University of Denver. Jim Lehrer of PBS' NewsHour, will moderate.
According to CNN, in the 2008 presidential election, 60 percent of registered voters had already made their decision before viewing the debates.
However, a recent CNN poll showed that 57 percent of Americans say that the presidential debates were very important in past elections.
“The vast majority of the public have already decided one way or the other in this campaign,” said Rozell. “The appeals by these candidates will be focused very specifically on the persuadable swing voters out there who either have not made up their minds or may be leaning one way or the other.”
For swing voters, Rozell said, he thinks it will ultimately come down to who has a more credible chance at fixing the economic situation over the next four years.
Rozell said it is very important that Romney remain competitive in the race up until the debates even though some recent polls show he’s running behind by some counts. Through the upcoming debates, Romney could possibly change the campaign.
“He could reset the campaign with a good debate performance. That really has to be the major hope for Romney’s campaign right now,” said Rozell.
The debates will give Romney the opportunity to reintroduce himself to the American people, Rozell noted. And unlike Obama, Romney has had more practice debating recently, when he was up against his fellow Republicans in the primaries.
Romney’s recent debate experience participating in 15 debates makes him a little more prepared for upcoming presidential debates, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democratic, recently told CNN's Soledad O'Brien.
“He needs to use these debates as key opportunities to communicate to the public what he’s going to do to better handle this economy and why electing him will make a real difference in people’s lives,” said Rozell. “He hasn’t really communicated those messages very effectively up to this point.”
Pundits often point to Obama's skills as a compelling speaker while campaigning and while serving as president. Although he will be “in his element” — as described by Rozell — during the upcoming debates, Obama will have the task of convincing and reassuring those who strongly believe there hasn’t been much change in the past four years.
This year’s elections is focused mostly on jobs and the economy, Rozell said. There is a substantial amount of economic anxiety in the public, he noted, because many Americans don’t have confidence that the current Administration
“One thing the president has done right I think is that from the beginning, he has communicated the message that there is no quick fix for this economic situation,” explained Rozell. “It’s going to take time, and government policies are not going to magically or quickly change the current situation.”
Obama’s consistency in this message throughout his presidency was probably the best strategy, Rozell said. In his opinion, he said, this strategy was the best instead of raising people’s hopes too high.
Romney, perhaps, can count on the high expectations attached to Obama’s performance during the debate and hope that post-debate analyses show that he held his own with the president, Rozell explained.
“It will help him establish a kind of presidential stature that he very much needs right now,” said Rozell. “He’ll need that to get people thinking of him as a possible president.”
For the full schedule of debates, including the vice presidential debate see: http://www.debates.org/index.php?page=dates-and-locations
See these stories on Obama and Romney recent visits to Fairfax County:
Obama Campaigns at Centreville High School
Romney Talks to Veterans in Springfield