Brankin: How much of an impact did the presidential debate really have?

We may have watched the final presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle, but research shows that millions of Americans have already voted. So, how much did it really matter?


Tara Brankin

On Thursday night, over 63 million people tuned in to watch the final presidential debate. While there were originally going to be three debates, Trump’s coronavirus scare led to the second debate, originally scheduled for Oct. 15, being canceled. This means that the debate on Oct. 22 was the last chance both candidates had to convince Americans to vote for them before the election on Nov. 3, but considering how many people have already voted, Trump and Biden’s petulant bickering might have had less of an impact than it would have prior to 2020.

The final presidential debate yielded nothing unexpected from either of the candidates. Trump remained as tone-deaf and egotistical as ever, while Biden tried to appease both far left activists and moderates. But even if something outrageous had occurred during the debate, it might have meant very little for either candidate’s polling numbers.

Back in 2016, a Vox article called into question how much the presidential debates actually impacted the outcome of the election. The article points out that while Americans may think the debates can make a huge difference, there is evidence showing that this is often exaggerated.

According to The Washington Post, more than 58 million Americans have already cast their votes for the 2020 presidential election. This is a staggering increase from 2016, where just 29 million Americans had voted prior to election day at this time in the election season. This can be attributed to not only the high stakes of this election, but the fact that voters may be worried their ballots won’t be counted as a result of an overwhelmed U.S. Postal Service; I would add that it could also reasonably be due to coronavirus concerns.

I believe that Thursday night’s debate will have little impact on who ultimately wins the election. Looking at how many people have already voted, it seems like no amount of controversy, last minute miracles or October surprises would create a significant difference in a voter’s candidate choice. While I do think it is important to watch the debates in order to keep tabs on who is running the country, very little can change people’s minds, much less the minds of those who have already voted.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that those who have yet to vote should think their vote doesn’t matter or that they shouldn’t vote at all. If we have learned anything over the last four years, it is that every single vote counts. If you are living near the University of Minnesota campus, there are several places on campus where you can drop your ballot and have a say on what America will look like over the next four years.

This is the first presidential election that I was able to vote in, and I am one of the 58 million who has already submitted their ballot; this is also the case for many of my peers at the University of Minnesota. Voting this year is paramount. If you haven’t voted already, make a plan to vote on election day or find a place to drop off your ballot.