TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Wednesday night's first presidential debate had the most viewers since the debates from the 1992 elections; according to Nielsen ratings over 67-million Americans tuned in. But, do those numbers play an impact in who voters will choose?
They were the talk of the water cooler on Thursday and analyzed by couch commentators all over social network sites. The first public shots fired from the 2012 presidential debates. Even Sesame Street's Big Bird got a shout out.
But when the dust settled who actually won? It got us wondering, historically, how have winners of the debate faired in the election?
We started with the first televised debate between Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
"(Nixon was) sweating a little bit and John Kennedy came across as cool calm and collected," Matthew Bergbower, Indiana State Political Scientist said. "(Kennedy's) been a model for how debate winning should be."
But when we went back and looked at recent debates we found something interesting.
Starting with 1996 President Clinton vs. Senator Bob Dole, we found that after the debates Dole gained on Clinton after the first debate, but still lost the election.
In 2004, a similar story, George Bush vs. John Kerry. Kerry went up favorably after the first debate, but failed to defeat Bush for his second term.
But each gain was so small there's no way to tell if the debate changed people's views.
"There's not a story out there, that's says one candidate won the debate or won multiple debates and increased his vote share by a significant margin," Bergbower explained.
So if the debates have no real evidence of swaying an election, we asked Dr. Bergbower what makes them so important?
"political debates are excellent political theater," he said. "On the one hand it's pretty entertaining to watch particularly for fans or those that are interested in politics."
You can see all the political passion and fanfare when the President and his challenger square off again October 16th.
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