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TROY political science professors weigh in on first debate

September 27, 2016

Less than 24 hours after the first presidential debate between candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Troy University political science professors weighed in on the debate – who won, who lost and what impact will it have on the election?

TROY Chair of Political Science Dr. Steven Taylor said the perception of who won the debate largely hinges on pre-existing beliefs.

“My view after the event was over was that both sides will see that their side as having won,” Taylor said. “Clinton seemed poised and competent, which will reinforce her supporters’ perceptions, while Trump’s boisterous approach will further cement the views that his supporters have of him as a ‘straight-shooter.’”

Associate political science professor Dr. Maryam Stevenson felt the debate ultimately favored Clinton.

“There is no question to me that Secretary Clinton won the first debate as a whole,” Stevenson said. “While Trump began on a good note and arguably won the first part of debate, things very quickly changed course. At several points he came across as a bully, at some points yelling and talking over Secretary Clinton. Meanwhile she remained cool, calm and collected, even smiling and winking at the audience. She is the consummate politician. Her responses were calculated, organized and on point.”

Taylor said debates are ultimately scored more on public perception than facts, but Clinton edged Trump in terms of the strength of her arguments.

“If we were scoring the debate as a real debate, that is on the merits of the information presented and the demeanor of the participants, then Clinton won as most of Trump’s responses were vague, even for this type of event (really all answers are vague due to time constraints), and he was easily goaded into outbursts,” Taylor said.

Stevenson said Trump’s lack of political experience was evident during the debate.

“If you simply read the text of the debate, I would be willing to bet that you could not pick out Clinton’s responses from any other Democratic candidate from years past,” she said. “The same cannot be said for Trump. In many instances he was off topic, failing to finish one thought before jumping to the next. His responses lacked the political polish that career politicians have.”

However, Taylor said both candidates’ performances likely strengthened their standing with their staunchest supporters.

“Now, Trump supporters may argue that Clinton was overly practiced, seemed robotic at times, or criticize her smile, but none of that is major in any way. Likewise, Clinton supporters will assert that Trump was on the defensive and was inappropriately interjecting when Clinton was speaking,” Taylor said. “However, Trump’s aggressive demeanor is what got him this far and is a known quantity. As such, it seems unlikely that his behavior last night will matter much.  Further, one could argue that he was more subdued last night than he was during the GOP primary debates.”

The true effects of the debate won’t be seen until later.

“The real answer to the win/loss question will not be fully known until later in the week when we see whatever effects the event may have on the polls, especially in the swing states,” Taylor said. “Even those numbers will not give us a clear answer, as other events also are constantly influencing the polling. A question that is very hard to answer: did either candidate convince voters who are still deciding (especially those flirting with a Gary Johnson or Jill Stein vote) that they are acceptable candidates?”