IN THE RING: Do debates in a political campaign help voters decide who to vote for? Have they helped you? Have they changed your mind?

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Each week the Keizertimes asks community leaders a question about current events.  To see more of this week’s answers or answers to past questions log onto www.keizertimes.com and click on In the Ring.

This week’s question is: Do debates in a political campaign help voters decide who to vote for? Have they helped you? Have they changed your mind?

Jim Willhite and Pat Ehrlich, vice presidents, Gubser Neighborhood Assn.—
We believe debates are very helpful in defining what the candidates stand for, their value system and how well they think and act under pressure. Do they just parrot the party line or do they show a sense of responsibility to the people they will be representing.  In one sense you get to see the real person, not the one shown in cleverly scripted ads.  Debates provide an opportunity to hear all candidates’ response to a particular question so voters can compare the answers which can be helpful in determining who to vote for.  They have helped us decide on which candidate will most likely represent our views on issues before the community (and we don’t always agree on the same person).

Debates can be very beneficial or detrimental to a candidate, particularly because newspapers and television report responses made to questions in a debate many times.  You don’t have to be part of the audience to hear how a person responded to a particular issue.

Marlene Quinn, event planner—
They don’t help me decide. They have never helped me decide nor have I changed my mind after watching the debates. I base my opinion on the facts of the candidate and what he stands for and what he can do for Oregon and the future of its residents. The questions that are sometimes asked at debates are the same  questions that they continually ask and most of the candidates have already answered that question for me. I don’t need to hear them say it again. So this debate issue to me is not important.

Vic Backlund, former state representative—
I believe that debates do help voters decide who they will vote for.  However, virtually all debates are short on substance and long on trying to impress voters, whether it’s by the sound of their voices, their good appearances, their issue generalities, etc.  Thus, because few of the issues are discussed in the kind of detail that is significant, I also believe that debates influence too many voters.

I have watched a lot of debates and rarely have they influenced me.  Generally, what the debates have done is help me solidify my pre-debate convictions.

So, good or bad, I’ve never watched a political debate that caused me to change my mind.”

Dennis Koho, attorney, former Keizer mayor—
In recent years it has been the gaffe in a debate that led people to vote against one of the debaters rather than for his or her opponent. For a political newcomer to a particular stage, however, they can be vital.  For example, they solidified the presidential “timber” of John Kennedy in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 and helped them both get elected.

In much the same way, Mr. Dudley needed this debate.  Voters find him attractive, but they worry that he has no experience that would qualify him for the job.

Good performance in a debate could erase those concerns – not to mention that it’s just plain stupid politics to skip a traditional debate in front of newspaper publishers.  I have to presume his handlers believed he was not ready for the debate but will find debate opportunities for him in the near future.

I’ve taken part as a candidate in a few debates.  As I recall, nearly everyone in the room was associated with a campaign or the sponsoring organization.

Those voters are unlikely to be swayed.  But let’s not forget that perhaps only 10 percent or so of the voters are swing voters.  They are the true audience for a political debate, and I think debates can impact these voters.

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