How a Presidential Primary Debate Changed Attitudes of Audience Members

Abstract

This article examines the effect of primary season presidential debates on voters' attitudes toward presidential candidates. Employing a pretest-posttest quasi-experimental design, we examine the 1996 Arizona Republican primary debate. We find that the debate led respondents to change their viability and electability assessments of the candidates and produced significant changes in respondents' vote preferences. In addition, we demonstrate that changes in viability, changes in electability, as well as differences between expected and actual debate performance influenced the vote preferences of audience members. We conclude by speculating about the debate's effect on the Arizona Republican primary, and by noting the potentially important differences between the impact of general election and primary debates.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

REFERENCES

  1. Abramowitz, Alan I. (1989). Viability, electability, and candidate choice in a presidential primary election: A test of competing models. Journal of Politics 51: 977–992.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Ansolabehere, Stephen, Roy Behr, and Shanto Iyengar (1993). The Media Game: American Politics in the Television Age. New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Arminger, G. (1987). Misspecification, asymptotic stability, and ordinal variables in the analysis of panel data. Sociological Methods and Research 15: 336–348.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment. In H. Guetzkow (ed.), Groups, Leadership, and Men (pp. 177–190). Pittsburgh: Carnegie Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Asher, Herbert B. (1988). Presidential Elections and American Politics (4th ed.). Chicago: Dorsey Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bartels, Larry M. (1988). Presidential Primaries and Dynamics of Public Choice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bauer, Raymond A. (1969). The obstinate audience: The influence process from the point of view of social communication. In H. C. Lindgren (ed.), Contemporary Research in Social Psychology (pp. 399–412). New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Beckel, Robert G. (1996). Bob Dole headed down Mondale's dead end. Arizona Republic, July 24, 1996: B9.

  9. Becker, Lee B., Idowu A. Sobowale, Robin E. Cobbey, and Chaim H. Eyal (1978). Debates' effects on voters' understanding of candidates and issues. In G. F. Bishop, R. Meadow, and M. Jackson-Beeck (eds.), Presidential Debate, (pp. 126–139). New York: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Brady, Henry E., and Robert Johnston (1987). What's the primary message: Horse race or issue journalism? In G. R. Orren and N. W. Polsby (eds.), Media and Momentum (pp. 127–186) Chatham, NJ: Chatham House.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Carlin, Diana Prentice (1992). Presidential debates as focal points for campaign arguments. Political Communications 9: 251–265.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Cook, Thomas D., and Donald Campbell (1979). Quasi-Experimentation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Dennis, J., S. H. Chaffee, and S. Y. Choe (1979). Impact on partisan, image, and issue voting. In S. Kraus (ed.), The Great Debates, Carter v. Ford, 1976 (pp. 314–330). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Dittes, J. E., and H. H. Kelly (1956). Effects of different conditions of acceptance upon conformity to group norms. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 53: 100–107.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Finkel, Steven E. (1993). Reexamining the minimal effects model in recent presidential campaigns. Journal of Politics 55: 1–23.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Finkel, Steven E. (1995). Causal Analysis with Panel Data. Sage University Paper Series on Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences, 07–105. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Fiske, Susan T., and Shelley E. Taylor (1991). Social Cognition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Geer, John (1988). The effects of presidential debates on the electoral preferences for candidates. American Politics Quarterly 16: 486–501.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Germond, Jack W., and Jules Witcover (1985). Wake Us Up When It's Over. New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Gopoian, J. D. (1982). Issue preference and candidate choice in presidential primaries. American Journal of Political Science 26: 524–546.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Hagner, Paul R., and Leroy N. Reiselbach (1978). The impact of the 1976 presidential debates: Conversion or reinforcement? In G. Bishop et al. (eds.), Presidential Debates. (pp. 57–178). New York: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Hellweg, Susan A., Michael Pfau, and Steven R. Brydon (1992). Televised Presidential Debates: Advocacy in Contemporary America. New York: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Holbrook, Thomas M. (1994). The behavioral consequences of vice-presidential debates: Does the undercard have any punch? American Politics Quarterly 22: 469–482.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Hosmer, David W., and Stanley Lemeshow (1989). Applied Logistic Regression. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Katz, Elihu, and Jacob J. Feldman (1962). The debates in light of research: A survey of surveys. In Sidney Kraus (ed.), The Great Debates: Kennedy v. Nixon, 1960 (pp. 173–223). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Kraus, Sidney (1988). Televised Presidential Debates and Public Policy. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Kraus, Sidney, and R. G. Smith (1962). Issues and image. In S. Kraus (ed.), The Great Debates, Kennedy v. Nixon, 1960 (pp. 289–312). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. KTVK (1996). Late Night News, February 22.

  29. Lang, Kurt, and Gladys Engel Lang (1962). Reactions of viewers. In Sidney Kraus (ed.), The Great Debates, Kennedy v. Nixon, 1960 (pp. 313–330). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Lang, Kurt, and Gladys Engel Lang (1968). Politics and Television. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Lanoue, David J. (1991). The “turning point”: Viewers' reactions to the second 1988 presidential debate. American Politics Quarterly 19: 80–95.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Lanoue, David J. (1992). One that made a difference: Cognitive consistency, political knowledge, and the 1980 presidential debate. Public Opinion Quarterly 56: 168–184.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Lanoue, David J., and Peter R. Schrott (1989). The effects of primary season debates on public opinion. Political Behavior 11: 289–306.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Lanoue, David J., and Peter R. Schrott (1991). The Joint Press Conference: The History, Impact, and Prospects of American Presidential Debates. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Lemert, James B. (1993). Do televised presidential debates help inform voters? Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 37: 83–94.

    Google Scholar 

  36. McIntosh, Everton G. (1989). Perceived bias in presidential debates. Perceptual and Motor Skills 68: 462.

    Google Scholar 

  37. McIntosh, Everton G. (1993). Do presidential debates contribute to a change in voters' attitudes? Perceptual and Motor Skills 77: 545–546.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Milburn, Michael A. (1991). Persuasion and Politics: The Social Psychology of Public Opinion. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Miller, Arthur H., and Michael MacKuen (1979). Informing the electorate: A national study. In Sidney Kraus (ed.), The Great Debates, Carter v. Ford, 1976 (p. 269–297). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Murphy, Michael (1996a). 55% undecided, poll says. Arizona Republic, February 21: A5.

  41. Murphy, Michael (1996b). Dole “snub” leaves debate wide open. Arizona Republic, February 22: A1-A2.

  42. Murphy, Michael, and Kris Mayes (1996). Buchanan trades jabs with 2 rivals. Arizona Republic, February 23: A1.

  43. Nemeth, C. J. (1986). Differential contributions of majority and minority influence. Psychological Review 93: 23–32.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Newsweek (1976). The debates. September 27: 24–29.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Nisbett, R. E., and L. Ross (1980). Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgement. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Orren, G. R. (1985). The nomination process: Vieissitudes of candidate selection. In M. Nelson (ed.), The Elections of 1984 (pp. 27–82). Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Patterson, Thomas E. (1980). The Mass Media Election. New York: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Payne, J. Gregory, James L. Golden, John Marlier, and Scott C. Ratzan (1989). Perceptions of the 1988 presidential and vice-presidential debates. American Behavioral Scientist 32: 425–435.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Polsby, Nelson W., and Aaron Wildavsky (1996). Presidential Elections. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Popkin, Samuel L. (1994). The Reasoning Voter. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Ray, Michael L. (1973). Psychological theories and interpretations of learning. In S. Ward and T. S. Robertson (eds.), Consumer Behavior: Theoretical Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Ray, Michael L. (1974a). The present and potential linkages between the microtheoretical notions of the behavioral sciences and the problems of advertising. In Harry Davis and Alvin J. Silk (eds.), The Behavioral and Management Sciences in Marketing. New York: Ronald Press.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Ray, Michael L. (1974b). Consumer initial processing: Definitions, issues, and applications. In G. David Hughes and Michael L. Ray (eds.), Buyer/Consumer Information Processing (pp. 145–156). Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Reagan, Ronald (1990). An American Life. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Schrott, Peter R. (1990). Electoral consequences of “winning” campaign debates. Public Opinion Quarterly 54: 567–585.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Sears, David, and Steven Chaffee (1979). Uses and effects of the 1976 debates: An overview of empirical studies. In Sidney Kraus (ed.), The Great Debates: Carter vs. Ford, 1976 (pp. 223–261). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Steeper, Frederic T. (1978). Public response to Gerald Ford's statements on Eastern Europe in the second debate. In G. F. Bishop et al. (eds.), Presidential Debates (pp. 81–101). New York: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Stone, Walter J., Ronald B. Rapoport, and Lonna Rae Atkeson (1995). A simulation model of presidential nomination choice. American Journal of Political Science 39: 135–161.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Swanson, L. L., and D. L. Swanson (1978). The agenda-setting function of the first Ford-Carter debate. Communication Monographs 45: 347–353.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Taylor, Shelley E., and S. C. Thompson (1982). Stalking the elusive “vividness” effect. Psychological Review 89: 155–181.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Wall, V., J. Golden, and H. James (1988). Perceptions of the 1984 presidential debates and a select 1988 presidential primary debate. Presidential Studies Quarterly 18: 541–563.

    Google Scholar 

  62. White, Theodore H. (1982). America in Search of Itself. New York: Warner.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Zaller, John R. (1992). The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Zaller, John R. (1996). The myth of massive media impact revived: New support for a discredited idea. In Diana C. Mutz, Paul M. Sniderman, and Richard A. Brody (eds.), Political Persuasion and Attitude Change (pp. 17–78). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Zhu, Jian-Hua, J. Ronald Milavsky, and Rahul Biswas (1994). Do televised debates affect image perception more than issue knowledge? A study of the first 1992 presidential debate. Human Communication Research 20: 302–333.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mike Yawn.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Yawn, M., Ellsworth, K., Beatty, B. et al. How a Presidential Primary Debate Changed Attitudes of Audience Members. Political Behavior 20, 155–181 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024832830083

Download citation

Keywords

  • General Election
  • Audience Member
  • Presidential Candidate
  • Vote Preference
  • Actual Debate