Do leader debates matter during an election?

♪ ♪
Various announcers: The National
Debate, live and in colour.
Encounter 79.
Live from Ottawa.
Vassy:Debates have long been
a moment in the campaign

for leaders to lay out their
promises and directly challenge

their opponents in person
on a national stage.

Now though,
we hear from leaders

on the campaign
trail kind of every day,

often live on TV
and social media.

As one political
scientist put it,

So can they change
the outcomes of elections?
And how much do
debates matter anyway?
♪ ♪
Depending on who you talk
to and what you read,
just how useful they are and
how much impact they can have –
well it’s up for debate.
Party strategists
will tell you they’re key.

It’s really
A debate is a huge inflection
point in a campaign
and continues to be so.
I think debates
do influence voters.
Academics have long been
researching whether
that’s actually true.
Often it depends
on the election.
We can identify certain
debates that have had
the impact on the bottom
line of voter intention.
Most debates,
most of the time however,
don’t have
discernible impact.
Vassy:That’s Richard Johnston.
He’s a political scientist
at the University
of British Columbia.

Other political scientists
agree, including Andre Blay
of the University of Montréal.
He says,
Mr Mulcair has said
he doesn’t think we should
be in this fight at all.
♪ ♪
Vassy:Debates may be the most
watched event during

an election but political
scientists say

the majority of
the population doesn’t tune in.

And those who do are already
pretty engaged in politics.

Richard:A large part
of that audience is just

looking for confirmation.
Now sometimes they could
be looking for
a kind of reassurance.
Vassy:In fact academics
also point out

many people get their
information about the debate

from how it’s condensed
and news coverage
and on social media.

Richard:So in fact
if you look at debates

that do seem to change things,
a lot of the change unfolds as
people learn about the debates
in the news stream.
Be serious…
Vassy:Johnston says
the 1988 debate

is a rare example of when
a debate can change
the outcome of an election.

He says this exchange became
the pivotal moment
of the campaign.

I happen to believe
that you’ve sold us out.
Vassy:John Turner was
behind in the polls.

But during the debate he
stepped toward Brian Mulroney

and questioned him
on the government’s

free trade agreement
with the United States.

Once a country
yields its energy…
We have
not done it!
Once a country yields
its agriculture.
Wrong again.
Once a country
opens itself up
to a subsidy war
with the United States…
Wrong again.
..then the political
ability of this country
to sustain the influence
of the United States, to remain
as an independent nation,
that is lost forever.
Mr Turner,
Mr Turner…
won the election

but according to this paper in
the British Journal of
Political Science

the debate had a substantial
and enduring impact
on the vote.

TheLiberalsgained at
the expense of both

theConservativesand theNDP.
♪ ♪
Debatesare very
difficult on incumbents.
They tend to be
attacked by all sides
and they have
something to defend.
Nobody else really
has much to defend.
Vassy: This is David Hurley.
He chaired severalLiberal
campaigns in the early 2000s.

Leaders who aren’t as
well-known and challengers
often have the most to gain.
According to this study in the
1988 debates it was

the party out of power who
benefited the most.

Four years earlier things were
entirely different.

Turner was the incumbent then.
Mulroney went at him for
carrying out

his predecessor’s partisan

Turner: Well, I told you
and told the Canadian people
Mr Mulroney,
that I had no option.
Mulroney: You had an option
sir to say no.
And you chose to say yes
to the old attitudes
and the old stories
of theLiberalParty.
That Mulroney moment.

Every time I want
inspiration about a debate
I watch that moment because
it’s just so devastating.
Vassy:This is Jason Lietaer.
He managed
the war room for

theConservativeParty during
the 2011 campaign.

Mr Mulroney just went at him
with both barrels
and essentially
sunk the campaign.
The most devastating blows often
happenwhen the target
isn’t prepared for the shot.
Remember this debate in 2011?
Jack Layton asked

how Michael Ignatieff could
expect to become
prime minister

based on his attendance
record in the House.

You know, most Canadians if
they don’t show up for work
they don’t get a promotion.
Vassy:Kathleen Monk is a
strategist who’s worked

on federal election
campaigns for the
We were prepared
for that night.
We knew thatMr Ignatieff
would react well,

that he was
fast on his feet.

And it was devastating because
you could see Mr Ignatieff
was like, “holy crap.
I didn’t see that coming.”
And as soon as the debate ended
there was an ad on television
with the same message.
V/O:Ignatieff had the worst
attendance record

of all 308 members of

Not so great leadership.
♪ ♪
So that was obviously completely
coordinated and planned.
Vassy:A spike in support
for the
happened around the time
of the debates, though there

were other factors at play too.
Those moments are what every
strategist is hoping for.
And with social
media the capacity
to distribute those moments
and for a moment to
really be seen by
an awesome number of people
is much greater than it was
before – traditional media.
And that’s why they say debate
prep is absolutely critical.
Debate prep is like
going and sitting
in the dentist chair
for a few hours.
And I got to tell you nobody
likes to do it.
Strategy is key.
A few people are usually solely
assigned to debate prep
and they will study the leaders,
their strengths,
their weaknesses
what topics might
get under their skin.
and then they’ll prep
a debate book filled with facts,
rebuttals and zingers
And then you have the mock
debates, to give you an idea –

this leaked video from
Hillary Clinton’s
2016 debate prep shows

her campaign manager playing
the role of Donald Trump.

Clinton was practicing
how to avoid a hug.

So you’ve got to make sure that
you’ve got
role players
who who are believable
and they’ve got to do a lot
of preparation as well.
That’s the other thing,
if they’re unprepared
debate prep stinks.
Vassy:Many view the 1960 Nixon
Kennedy presidential debates

as a lesson in why
appearance can also be key.

Nixon had been ill
and he stood out next

to Kennedy who
appeared healthy.

Research indicated that people
who listen to the debate

on the radio thought that Nixon
and people who watched
the debate on television
thought that Kennedy won.
Some teams even hire
body language experts
to help leaders who might have
physical habits or verbal tics
that could cause problems.
Mostly you want them
to be comfortable.
What an incredibly stressful
high-stakes moment
that hour and a half
is for those leaders.
Vassy:You also want them to
connect with the audience.

Sometimes you’ll even see
leaders turn to talk

to the camera and address
the audience directly.

Let’s be very clear,
we have health support for our
refugees and immigrants…
♪ ♪
Vassy:Lietaer says he ran
dial groups that showed people
were turned off when exchanges

became really negative and
leaders spoke over each other.

Lietaer: Whenever people start
shouting at each other
or shouting over each other.
Dial goes down,
like people hate it.

Soyou’ve got to prepare
your people in a way
that says to not be shouting
over each other.
say you’ll often see
the biggest effect on voters
immediately after the debate,
which is amplified by
the next day’s news coverage.
We saw highlights
of that debate…
More often than not.
it’s a short term
change that is reversed.
So it’s like a pulse
that then goes away.
Even if there’s no consensus
on the effect debates have,
experts do agree
that they’re good for
the political process.
Debates level the playing
field in a way
and allow parties who are maybe
second, third,
fourth, fifth tier
to have an opportunity to
engage with the leaders
at the same level.
Vassy:Think about
it like this:

It’s the only time you’ll ever
really see the leaders

all together during
the campaign interacting

and actually talking policy.
If you didn’t have debates then
really all of you would
have is the even stageier
and even more fake world
of advertising, leaders tours
and public appearances designed
to create positive impressions
♪ ♪

21 thoughts on “Do leader debates matter during an election?

  1. I have to say, I applaud CBC for making all these political segments. I feel CBC has improved it's reporting over the past few years.

  2. Debates can't matter if you don't show. Still will get great press though. Better start changing opinions CBC or face going broke and hungry

  3. Debates are important but its also important to actually invite the candidates to the debate! Why don't they invite Maxime Bernier!

  4. Debates are worthless. Half of the time is spent on cheap shots between candidates, and the other half giving canned answers.

  5. In this case leader debates don’t matter because “uh um well err uhhh well ummm” does not provide any new factual information for a voter.

  6. I think they are important, this way you can hear the key issues that normally you can't hear in the house of commons, I think the time they get to answer should be higher, but we all know Trudeau will say the exact same thing because he is the broken record, he will never tell the truth, I think that if debates are so important, then all leaders should should do all the debates, with Trudeau not doing all the debates just shows that he is not being honest, social media is powerful and as much as the liberals want to censor us, canadians are waking up and Quebec sees what's going on, if anything I think they should be offended that Trudeau is leaving them out of key factors to sway a vote, I can tell you for alot of us, a debate and campaigning won't sway our vote, some are smart enough to look back at the track record, and do the research, I'm not ok with Pluralism being inbedded into Canada, honestly it really made me feel sick

  7. Only if the leaders show up and answer questions. Trudeau is a coward and only shows up when he can control the narrative. That's why is so selective.

  8. Debating = acting they are all fakes and snakes stop voting ppl if you want to vote, vote for someone that knows what it's like to be poor, not a spoiled brat, vote for a civilian , The whole parliament should be changed out with poor people who want to make a change for this country,

  9. It irks me that, as an English‐speaking Canadian (making up 75.4% of the population), Trudeau will only be participating in one English‐language debate. On the other hand, he will be in two French‐language debates, which represents only 22.8% of the population. Proving once again that it′s all about Quebec ;  what was it that Trudeau said ? Oh yes, Trudeau says that ʺCanada belongs to Quebec.ʺ The rest of Canada is just expected to fall in line.

  10. Not really. The polls only change so much. The Blue will stay Blue, The Red will stay Red. The will never hold their own leaders accountable so obviously blind faith is more important than debate and / or the Sense of Belonging means more to people than being open minded does.

  11. We want an end to the building tyranny and marxists talking points and policies. Were sick of politicians being portrayed by the media as moral heroes for robbing the working people of more and more of there incomes in order to keep a bunch for themselves and give a bunch to some interest group. The programs never solve the problem and are always asking for more and more every yr. Were done. We want our freedom back and ro put government back in its place. Protecting negative freedoms for all and having nothing to do with supplying positive freedoms for any. Massive deregulation massive tax cuts. Massive government department cuts. Massive cuts to programs and policies. Governments size and influence need massive reductions. Were sick of all of you.

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