Debate Dilemma: How Impactful Was It Really?

Vice Presidential Debate had little effect on election.


Every year, Apple advertises new versions of the iPhone that are unnoticeably different from the previous year’s device, and still people shell out more and more money each year to pay for the “upgrade” only to end up realizing that their new phone wasn’t actually revolutionary or valuable.

Last week’s Vice Presidential debate between Senator Kamala Harris and incumbent Vice President Mike Pence had a similar sensation to Apple’s iPhone gimmick and left the viewers wondering, Was the debate actually revolutionary or valuable? Like paying for the new iPhone, the debate felt rather fruitless in several ways.

Images from Flickr. Image 1 (Kamala Harris), Image 2 (Mike Pence), Image 3 (Vice Presidential Debate).

Prior to October 7th, the plans of both the Biden-Harris and Trump-Pence partnerships were well known, with each promising unique and more extreme principles of their parties. The Presidential debate on September 29th confirmed what most Americans already knew about each candidate’s beliefs, though it was sometimes hard to interpret their remarks between the rude comments and constant interruptions.

While viewers expected to hear new contentions and counter-arguments, both Vice President nominees neglected to add much new information for the viewers; instead, they consistently repeated their parties’ agendas. 

For instance, stale arguments concerning climate change were brought up from both sides. Harris vouched for the Biden Plan, which intends to replace pollutants by “investing in clean energy and renewable energy.” At the same time, Pence reaffirmed the economic success of his administration and warned of the “Green New Deal, which would crush American energy…[and] jobs.”

Both of these arguments have been repeated time after time as they stem from the well-known, popularized agendas of each candidate. Neither candidate provided critical new material nor assertions; therefore, neither drastically changed the minds of most viewers.

Arguably the most important aspect of debate, which any member of Debate Club can tell you, is that refutation and counter-arguments are what separate debates from speeches. Nevertheless, the Vice Presidential Debate lacked in this area, and instead the candidates often refuted each other by ignoring and denying the opposition.

While discussing climate change, Pence argued that Biden’s plan would eliminate fracking — the process of drilling for fossil fuels — and Harris responded by claiming that Pence’s assertion was false. This argument continued, with each saying the other was wrong, leaving the viewers clueless and doubting the reliability of both candidates. 

Similarly, when Harris mentioned Biden’s plan to repeal Trump’s tax cuts, which she said benefited the “top 1% and the biggest corporations of America,” Pence suggested that Biden and Harris would increase taxes on all Americans. Pence ignored the fact that Harris was only targeting wealthy people and corporations, not the majority of the population. By doing so, Pence opposed a claim that was never made which only perpetuated the growing conflict and tumult between the candidates.

However, not all of the debate was as repetitive and unhelpful. A key aspect of the debate was the empowerment of women and minorities in politics as Harris stood her ground as a polished debater against Pence.

In fact, viewers often witnessed Pence interrupt Harris, but the Senator retained a higher level of respect as she asked Pence — though somewhat passive aggressively as she repeated “I’m speaking” several times with a phony smile — to let her respond. Harris also calmly requested extra time from the moderator so that she could have the opportunity to reply to Pence and receive equal speaking duration. to compensate for lost seconds or minutes.

Not only did Harris represent women and minorities as she defended herself, but she was also more personable as she successfully related to the American public by explaining how the issues for which she argued would affect the American families watching. With the combination of these factors, viewers were able to get a better idea of which candidate was more aggressive and disrespectful: Pence.

Despite Harris’ efforts, the net effect of the debate was still minuscule. What is most telling about the lack of impact is the comparison of voter statistics before and after the debate.

In a poll from FiveThirtyEight’s collaboration with Ipsos, viewers were asked to rate their likelihood to vote for each candidate on a scale from 1 to 10. Before the debate, viewers on average selected 5.1 for Biden-Harris and 3.8 for Trump-Pence; after the debate these results were exactly the same.

With this election being so crucial, polarizing and fascinating, I expected an equally as intriguing debate to the first between Trump and Biden. But due to its negligible impact — and considering that the fly on Pence’s head was the most interesting moment — the Vice Presidential Debate felt as unrevolutionary and valueless as getting the “upgraded” but unchanged iPhone.