Presidential Debate Watching, Issue Knowledge, Character Evaluation, and Vote Choice


William L. Benoit, Department of Communication, 115 Switzler Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri 65211–2310; email:


This study employs NES (National Election Survey) data from several presidential elections to investigate the effects of presidential debate watching on voters' issue knowledge, character evaluation, and vote choice. Debates can instill issue knowledge; however, voters are less likely to learn about incumbent presidents seeking re-election after a four-year term in office than about other candidates. Debates are also capable of changing voters' impressions of the candidates' character. Finally, at times debates help viewers make a vote choice; they are more likely to strengthen existing preferences (increasing confidence in their vote choice) than alter vote preferences.