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Washington Watch: Decoding Debates

The third and final presidential debate will take place Wednesday 9 p.m. between top contenders Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

But, the big questions remain: What will be discussed that has not been beaten to death in the previous debates? Why do the candidates seem to dodge answers and focus on something off-topic?

These questions and many others make watching a debate frustrating and fruitless for most potential voters.

But, if viewers understand the reasons behind the candidates’ actions, it will help them pull the important information out of the final 90-minute Q&A marathon.

Dr. Terilyn Johnston Huntington, MVNU’s political science professor, explained how the presidential debates originally became a campaign staple.

“Initially, it was an opportunity for presidential candidates to reach a wider audience,” she said. “It was the only opportunity anyone had to see the candidates.”

Today, debates are more about the candidates getting 90 minutes of free airtime to promote their platforms and inform voters.

“Now, the debates give an opportunity for the candidates to be broadcasted into the living rooms of American citizens, which is a great thing,” Huntington said.

And, although viewers may not be able to tell based on the questions asked or answers given, each debate is supposed to have a general topic and structure.

“The first one is typically more generalist, (giving an overview of the candidates’ platforms), the second one focuses on domestic policy, and the third one is normally foreign-policy oriented,” Huntington explained.

Each debate is hosted by a different network, which chooses the moderator(s) and the venue for the debate.

But, when candidates seem to steer their answers off-topic, it isn’t because they are poor listeners, or unprepared, said Huntington. In fact, it is a thought-out strategy that has been used for years.

“It’s called ‘the pivot,’” Huntington said. “It’s a campaign strategy to make sure your message is the one that stays dominant.”

It may be something that politicians are coached to do. But, this strategy has proven to be frustrating to the audience.

“As viewers, we aren’t stupid, and we get annoyed by this. We just want them to answer the question,” Huntington said.

However, viewer satisfaction is not the only focus of the candidates. They want to insert their one-liners so their clips get maximum replay.

“Candidates are concerned about the sound-byte. The answers are short; they want it to be replayed on social media, in a Vine or on Twitter over and over again.”

But, the bottom line is, debates can make a difference, and if you are unsure who to support they are a good way to learn the candidates’ platforms.

For more information on Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton’s campaigns, click here.

To learn about the two third-party candidates running in all 50 states, Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party), and Jill Stein (Green Party), click here.

There is also an approved list of write-in candidates for each state. Visit My Time to Vote, here, for more information.

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