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Expert Available: MU Expert Says Viewers Will Receive Greatest Benefit in Presidential Town Hall Debate

Oct. 15, 2012

Story Contact(s):
Timothy Wall, walltj@missouri.edu, 573-882-3346

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – On Tuesday night, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will meet on the debate stage for their second presidential debate, but this time they will not be alone. The candidates will be joined by dozens of “undecided” citizens eager to interrogate the two men. While political strategists and media pundits are busy pondering which candidate might be best served by such encounters, Mitchell S. McKinney, a University of Missouri associate professor of communication and presidential debate expert, says that citizens at home viewing the debate may be the greatest beneficiaries.

McKinney, an international expert on presidential debates, has analyzed the role and effects of citizens questioning candidates during debates.

His research reveals:

  • when citizens question candidates during debates, such as town hall debates, their questions are fundamentally different than those asked by journalists;
  • debates in which citizens are involved as questioners result in less candidate clash and elicit more direct candidate responses;
  • viewers of debates in which citizens ask questions report greater learning and higher levels of interest in the ongoing campaign;

McKinney has conducted extensive research of various candidates’ debate performances, including this year’s presidential and vice presidential debates and numerous Democratic and Republican debates that have featured both Obama and Romney.

In 1992, McKinney consulted with the Commission on Presidential Debates, advising the Commission on how debates could be structured in order to better educate citizens on significant campaign issues. The co-author of The 1992 Presidential Debates in Focus, he has co-authored and edited four other books and numerous research articles on presidential debates. Most recently, he advised the presidential debate committee of South Korea as Seoul officials planned their 2002 televised presidential debates.

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