The first presidential debate of the 2016 election season will be hosted by Hofstra University at 9 p.m. EST on Sept. 26. The debate will mark the first occasion presidential candidates Donald Trump (R) and Hillary Clinton (D) face one another in a live, open forum.
According to the Commission on Presidential Debates, as of Sept 19, candidates will be discussing “America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity” and “Securing America.”
Thomas Mach, professor of history at Cedarville University, said he believes the debate will focus on terror and immigration. Mark Caleb Smith, professor of political science and director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville, concurred — though he questioned whether the debate will remain on topic.
“Ideally, you’d love the topics to focus on what’s important. You know — the important issues we’re facing as a country. But honestly, they frequently focus on things that are ‘newsy,’ things that are controversial, things that show stark differences between the candidates,” Smith said.
Mach remarked that Hillary Clinton’s campaign post-primary season has been centered around defaming Trump’s public image. Trump has received both criticism and support in the past for his politically incorrect comments, especially about immigration. Clinton argues that his comments are often discriminatory, as highlighted by her recent commercial. Mach theorizes that Clinton may try to evoke that spirit in him in this upcoming debate as a political strategy. Smith commented on whether or not he believes Trump will take the bait.
“If he’s challenged directly, if Mrs. Clinton challenges him directly, or if one of the moderators goes after him directly, I think he’s going to come out swinging,” said Smith. “I think he’s bombastic, I think he’s in your face, I think he’s controversial…I just think that’s who he is.”
Marc Clauson, professor of history and law at Cedarville, concurred, saying that he believes that Trump will attack if provoked.
As to the moderators of the upcoming debates, Clauson has his doubts, stating that they seem biased on the surface. Smith suggested that the task of being a debate moderator is quite difficult, as members of a party typically dislike a moderator that is tough on their candidate.
This election cycle has also seen a larger percentage of American voters supporting third-party candidates than in previous elections. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is polling at just over eight percent according to RealClearPolitics. However, he needs to reach 15 percent to debate with Clinton and Trump on the 26th. Smith doubts that Johnson will poll high enough to be given that coveted spot in the two debates after the upcoming one.
“I don’t think we’ll see third party inclusion, and I think that will pretty much end his chances of being a significant player in this election,” Smith said.
Mach had a divergent opinion, he said believes the inclusion of third-party candidates will destabilize our current electoral system.
Some political scientists have questioned whether presidential debates have a large impact on the election as a whole. Political scientists Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien conducted a 2012 study on the subject. Their data demonstrates little shift in public opinion before and after debates, suggesting that presidential debates only further cement the preexisting opinions of viewers on which candidates they favor.
“It is the first debate and that gives it some significance,” said Clauson. “After that people may get tired of them.”
Smith, however, suggested that the debate could have an effect on voting patterns.
“Donald Trump is such a wildcard. He’s such a polarizing figure that if he somehow does something surprising or incredibly effective, it could maybe change the dynamics of the race,” he said.
The debate will be televised on news channels CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, C-SPAN, ABC, FOX and CBS.
Alexandria Hentschel is a freshman international studies major and an off-campus news writer for Cedars. She enjoys old books, strong coffee and