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date: 23 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Over more than four decades, debate scholarship has addressed the auspices under which debates are conducted, debate formats, variables in news coverage, and debate’s influence on issue knowledge and candidate support across a wide range of audiences, primarily through examination of general election presidential debates in the United States. Primary debates and debates for other offices have received far less attention. While evidence strongly suggests that debates produce more acclaims than attacks from participants and attend more closely to policy than to character, a systematic understanding of performance and performance variables has eluded debate scholarship. Evidence does show that viewers learn from debates and that they can also influence the formation of opinions about candidates, although both phenomena depend to some extent on prior knowledge and partisanship.

Keywords: debates, political debates, presidential debates, political learning, political communication, television and politics, press and politics, communication effects

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