Next Monday is the day that everyone in the political world has been waiting for and the first time many Americans will see what both major political parties have to offer as their presidential nominees. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump will face off for the first time on the same stage. This is a chance for voters to see both nominees’ ideas, temperament, and composure side-by-side. Even though both parties’ nominees are viewed highly unfavorably, it is expected that the debate, hosted by NBC's Lester Holt at 9 p.m., will produce record breaking ratings, possibly topping 100 million viewers and breaking the 1980 record set by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan of 80 million. For comparison, the 2012 Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debates averaged 66 million viewers.
The two candidates are taking different approaches to getting ready for the debate. While it’s customary for candidates to do extensive debate preparation along with having stand-in candidates who can mimic their opponent, it is unknown who Clinton has as a stand-in for Trump and not much is known on what kind of preparation Trump is doing.
Clinton has had no other events on her campaign schedule since Wednesday and is doing extensive research on the way Trump conducted himself during the Republican primary debates. Trump, for his part, has said that he believes too much preparation can be unhelpful and will rely on his experience in the spotlight to get him through the debate.
What is known is that he will huddle with some close advisors over the weekend to go over "zingers" that he could possibly use to rattle Clinton. But, as anyone who has been following his campaign over the last year knows, Trump is an unpredictable candidate that is almost impossible to prepare for. How Clinton handles any unexpected comments will say a lot more about who wins the debate than anything else.
Of course the expectations set for each candidate and how the media reports on the results of the debate make a difference on who is perceived as the winner. The gap between the two candidates in expectations could not be farther apart. Trump, who has never served in any sort of political office and has been anything but a typical candidate, is going in with low expectations. The bar is low for him to stand face-to-face with Clinton without losing his temper and appear to be a reasonable person who Americans can see as being the next commander in chief.
For Clinton's part, it is whether she will be rattled by Trump and whether she can reasonably and concisely explain the many controversies surrounding her candidacy, including the email scandal that has led many Americans to believe that she is not trustworthy. Trump is already working the referees and creating a narrative of bias, claiming the debate moderator is a Democrat, when in fact he has been a registered Republican since 2003.
The polls have tightened and the debate could swing and move undecided and third-party voters back to one of the two major party political nominees. Nationally, the Real Clear Politics average has Clinton up three points on Trump in a two-way race and two points in a four-way race, which is within the margin of error. Clinton still holds a Democratic firewall in the Electoral College race, but the strength of it has diminished since August. Historically, the debates have not moved polling by more than a couple of points in either direction and often times the bump the winning candidate may receive from a debate diminishes over time. Currently, the four major political statistical models on average give Clinton a 69% chance of winning the election.
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