In 2004, political science researchers at Arizona State University assembled three groups of people. One group watched that year’s third presidential debate between John Kerry and George W. Bush. A second group watched the debate plus 20 minutes of analysis on NBC. The third group watched the debate and were then given 20 minutes of access to written “instant analysis” posted on CNN.com.
Those who watched the NBC analysis, which in the researchers’ opinion had been more favorable to Bush, were more than twice as likely to say that Bush had won compared to those who watched the debate without exposure to outside analysis. The contrast with those who read CNN’s analysis — judged more favorable to Kerry by researchers — was even more stark. Only 19 percent in that group felt that Bush had won, although overall, those who had read CNN coverage were most likely to say that neither man had won.
Researchers also took a look at whether partisan differences played any role. Democrats, they found, were much more open to changing their minds about the candidates based on what they had seen in the debates and subsequent analysis, while Republicans showed no such willingness to alter their perspective.
“In this case, Republicans are much less willing to be swayed by political information, compared with Democrats. Why are Republicans less receptive to the debate messages? It may be Republicans had more stable and strongly held attitudes about their nominee for the simple reason that their nominee was the incumbent president. Or, it may be the case that Republicans were less receptive to media messages because they are more suspicious of the “liberal bias” of the press. Or, maybe Democrats held ambivalent feelings about Senator Kerry because they had less information about him, making their attitudes about Senator Kerry more responsive to external stimuli. Whatever the mechanism, these results suggest that people’s party affiliation clearly affected their reaction to the messages emanating from the debate and subsequent news coverage.”
Keep all that in mind tonight, when we’ll be live-blogging the debate right here. I’ll put a debate post up around 8 p.m., with the debate scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. All major networks will provide coverage, and Jim Lehrer of PBS’ NewsHour will moderate.
– Jay Bookman