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Can a Debate Shift the Course of Voter Opinion? Find Out Now!

Body: The bedrock of any democracy, perhaps after the right to vote, is the right to information. This is why political debates may play an integral role in shaping voter sentiment, as they are platforms where candidates exhibit their stance on various issues, engage in intellectual discourse, give insight into their plans for governance, and garner massive public attention. However, the question that lingers is whether these debates indeed have the power to transform the trajectory of voter sentiment. In the history of electoral politics, debates have often left indelible marks. From Nixon’s infamous poor performance against Kennedy in the 1960 presidential debate to the more recent Clinton v. Trump face-offs, it’s clear that debates greatly influence public perception. They serve as a forum for the candidates to directly communicate their policy plans, permeate public discourse, and establish their image in the hearts of the voters. One of the primary reasons for the importance of debates is the “primacy effect,” a psychological concept which refers to the recall of primary information better than information presented later on. The stellar performances of candidates in early debates can establish a positive image of them amongst the voters, thus influencing subsequent voter behavior. This influence can also be attributed to the ‘media effect’. Media serves as the primary source of information for the electorate about the candidates and their policies. Numerous studies have indicated that post-debate media coverage has a profound effect on shaping and changing the public’s perception. The significance of this cannot be downplayed in an era where technology and social media have taken centre stage in the dissemination of information. Moreover, debates are considered a means to humanize the candidates, allowing voters to connect with them beyond their policies. They add depth to the candidate’s personality, presenting glimpses into their leadership style and personal ethos that are otherwise difficult to capture. Emotional appeal has held a significant place in political science theory, and it is in these unscripted debate moments when the electorate can relate to the candidates on a personal level. However, despite these significant attributes, the effectiveness of debates in shifting voter sentiment can be debated. Several scholars argue that voters have well-formed preferences before the debate season begins which are not likely to be altered dramatically. Voters often see debates through the lens of their pre-existing party affiliations and candidate preferences, often termed “confirmation bias”. Naturally, the impact of debates may vary across different demographics. People who are undecided or not firmly rooted in political preferences may be more open to having their sentiments swayed

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