Will the first debate be a game changer? History says, not so much

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 3 2012 1:50 p.m. MDT

John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon, 1960 Next » 1 of 6 « Prev
Associated Press
According to a CNN list of 10 debate moments that mattered, the meeting between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 mattered because Nixon looked terrible.

"His makeup was bad. He wasn't feeling well. He looked sallow. He looked scornful. And people just reacted to that image of a vigorous, young Kennedy, and an almost sick-looking Nixon," the CNN article said.

Gallup data showed Kennedy moving from one point behind Nixon before the debate to three points ahead afterward. Stimson, Erikson and Wlezien found that Kennedy's margin after all of the debates was only slightly higher than his margin before the first debate.

"Given Kennedy's ultimate margin of victory in the popular vote of only two-tenths of a percentage point, it is clear the debates didn't produce a major shift in the structure of the election, but this debate-period boost in his support could very well have accounted for the outcome," Gallup posited.

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