NEW YORK: With just over a month before the US presidential election, Donald Trump and Joe Biden are set to take the debate stage Tuesday, the first show pitting the rivals against each other that’s sure to have millions of Americans glued to their screens.
But in an ultra-polarized climate with few undecided voters, analysts say it’s unclear how much debates, which over the decades have become something of rehearsed performances, can actually move the needle.
The first duel between Trump and Hillary Clinton in September 2016 had a record audience of 84 million viewers.
If Tuesday’s numbers are comparable, the candidates would have more than triple the audiences of their party’s conventions earlier this year — only the Super Bowl football championship does better, with about 100 million viewers per year.
But history shows the debates aren’t necessarily the key to winning the presidency.
In 2016 Clinton was deemed the winner of all three debates — and ultimately lost the fight for the White House.
And in 2004, Democrat John Kerry also lost to Republican George W. Bush, despite superior debate performances.
Bob Erikson, a political science professor at Columbia University, said the last time presidential debates were significant at the polls was in 1984, when Ronald Reagan, 73, fumbled against his rival Walter Mondale.
But the Californian bounced back in the following face-offs, highlighting the “youth and ine