CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The third and final presidential debate on Thursday is the last time President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will share the stage before the votes are counted.
While many people will be watching, the debate influence is somewhat questionable. College of Charleston political science professor Gibbs Knotts says the power of the debate has waned in recent years.
“They are and they aren’t important. A ton of people watch them and they certainly get a lot of attention,” Knotts said. “I think where they are less important is the fact that so many people have already made up their minds. Many millions of Americans have already voted.”
In South Carolina alone nearly 750,000 ballots have already been cast.
Knotts says the debates have relatively little impact compared to party identification, which is the biggest indicator of how a person will vote.
“We are so polarized today,” Knotts said. “There is almost nothing that Donald Trump is going to do for a Republican to not support him and, likewise, a Democrat is going to be pretty much locked into Joe Biden.”
There is one group of voters that could be swayed by a debate – those still deciding if they are going to vote. Knotts says there are plenty of people who feel left out and discouraged by politics and may choose not to vote at all. A debate can reach some of those people and motivate them to go to the polls.
“I think when elections are close, any little thing can have an impact,” Knotts said. Those voters could make a difference in battle ground states.
New to the debate stage this year is the option to mute the two candidates. The Commission on Presidential Debates made that announcement after the first debate was widely condemned for having more interruptions than substance.
“It was sad, because I think you do want to have open and honest dialog but I think it was the right move,” Knotts said referencing when he heard about the change. “They [the Commission] looked at the last debate and said, ‘the American public did not benefit from what they saw last time’.”