When and why do presidential debates change voter views? How, if at all, did they help Donald Trump last time? Ethan Porter finds that the post-debate commentary changes voter views as much as the debate itself, with Fox and MSNBC viewers getting quite different impressions, but not enough to change who they support. Patrick Stewart finds that candidates go for applause lines and laughs to reach voters and create meme-worthy moments, which are reflected in the in-person audience reaction. This season of debates might also produce a television star, but voters’ initial instincts may be hard to change.

Studies: Presidential Debates in the Age of Partisan Media” and “Please Clap” 

Interviews: Ethan Porter, George Washington University; Patrick Stewart, University of Arkansas 


Matt Grossmann: This week on the Science of Politics, how presidential debates influence voters. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann. We’re past two sets of presidential debates with dozens more to go, but the polls don’t seem to have moved. So when and why did debates change voter views and how did they help Donald Trump last time? Rather than paying close attention to the policy positions of the candidates, voters may just be responding to their jokes or insults, if they’re watching it all. And it turns out that post-debate commentary may have more influence than the debates themselves.

Today, I talked to Ethan Porter of George Washington University about his paper, “Presidential Debates in the Age of Partisan Media,” with Kimberly Gross and Thomas Wood. They asked people to watch the same 2016 debate on either Fox or MSNBC, some with and some without the post-debate commentary. They found that each channel, with their immediate verdicts on who won and lost, influenced voters. I also talked to Patrick Stewart of the University of Arkansas about his new article, “Please Clap,” with Austin Eubanks and Jason Miller. He finds that everything (from the in-person crowds to the moderators to the split screen images to the channel producing a primary debate) can all matter. Candidates go after applause lines and laughs to reach voters and create meme-worthy moments. Both are going up against the conventional wisdom that debates might not matter. Porter says that’s usually right about vote choice, but their evidence does show some real effects.

Ethan Porter: The scholarly wisdom in general is that single-media events are unlikely to do much. Scholarly consensus is that media effects, if they exist at all, are likely small. Even though the public attaches great importance to debates and millions, 70 million people watch them, it’s not clear that debates actually change anybody’s mind. Right? So maybe debates matter because they’re fun to watch. Maybe debates matter because they’re informative.

But on this basic question, which is “do debates actually affect who people vote for,” there’s very little evidence that debates do just that. And there’s good reason to believe given the mounds of research on small media effects that any single debate in any single post-debate coverage isn’t likely to effect most voters attitudes.

That’s sort of the scholarly wisdom I would say. Although, I don’t think it’s overwhelming by any respects.

And what do we find? We find a few things. We find that actually on several of evaluative measures of Trump and Clinton, that the post-debate coverage did make a difference. Right? That maybe undercut some, what you might, some scholarly expectations. On the other hand, we were never able to find evidence that post-debate coverage was able to affect vote choice. Right? Which is really important. And after all, that is what the candidates themselves are trying to do.

Matt Grossmann: Stewart says the changing media environment means TV debates matter more, at least in the primary. Since he’s been watching in 2008, winning candidates have connected with voters on TV.

Patrick Stewart: I do a lot of nonverbal communication. I’m a facial action coding system certified coder and a lot of my research looks at facial displays, and I look at how people respond to facial displays. The charisma that is there is a really interesting question for me because it oftentimes drives who we choose as our leaders, not necessarily our policy preferences. And certainly partisan identity plays a major role, but when we’re looking at the primary debates, that’s before we get into the partisanship. So this is where we really find some interesting decisions and some interesting questions being raised during the primary debates. There is no party identity tied with these candidates within the choice. We’re choosing within the party and we’re seeing which one fits our idea of what a leader ought to be. So I think that’s one of the key things is no longer are we looking at the invisible primary.

We’re looking at a highly visible and highly volatile primary, in which case we can look at, certainly going back to 2008 when I started my research, where Barack Obama essentially came from nowhere. He was not a part of the party apparatchik. Hillary Clinton was the one that was supposed to be the president at the time, and he effectively utilized charisma to launch himself into the presidency. On the other side, the Republican side in 2008, it was certainly John McCain. He was the one who had worked his way to that point. But what was most fascinating is that Mike Huckabee was able to establish himself as a national figure due in great part to his humor and his ability to elicit laughter. So I think it’s at that point that we’re starting to see that in the primary debates, how important laughter is.

Matt Grossmann: Porter studied the first general election debate in 2016 with an experiment, finding the channel that voters watch matters for their impressions.

Ethan Porter: It appeared that there was going to be a close election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Many popular prognosticators thought the debate was going to be pivotal in some way. Now, as I’m sure you know in political science there’s a fair bit of skepticism about the impact of the debates. Particularly because we believe that voters make up their minds largely before exposure to any one media event, and it would be difficult to imagine that just one media event would actually affect something as deep-rooted as partisanship.

That was the sort of intellectual and popular context. What did we find? We randomly incentivized people to watch this debate. And furthermore, we incentivized them to then watch post-debate coverage on either Fox News, which is generally seen as more conservative leaning, pro-Republican leaning, or we incentivize them to watch the debate and post-debate coverage on MSNBC, which is generally seen as more liberal and more pro-democratic leaning.

The goal was to figure out, look, do these post-debate shows actually make a difference? We found that to some extent they did. Those who watched MSNBC post-debate coverage were significantly more favorably inclined toward Hillary Clinton along a whole range of issues, along a whole range of measurements afterwards. And those who watched Fox News were more positively disposed toward Donald Trump afterwards at a whole range of measures. But we didn’t find any effects on vote choice. Right? So it seems like watching Fox’s coverage of the debate might make you like Donald Trump more, but it doesn’t seem like it will make you any more likely to vote for him. And the same is true for MSNBC and Hillary Clinton.

Matt Grossmann: Stewart looked at how Trump won over voters in the primary debates last time through emotional appeals.

Patrick Stewart: Well, what I did here is I did a content analysis with the couple of students that were honor students at the time, but now they’re PhD students at the University of Kansas and at the University of Arkansas. And we looked at audience response and speaking time. And we were looking at applause booing, and perhaps most importantly for myself, laughter. And what we found is that Donald Trump… well, he rather effectively utilized the audience to increase his status within the Republican party. He was definitely the laughter candidate and he was the applause candidate and he was also the boo candidate. He elicited a range of different responses from the audience.

Matt Grossmann: Let’s dig into each study. Porter, Gross, Wood compare the effects of coverage on CSPAN, Fox, and MSNBC and their post-debate coverage over an extended time period.

Ethan Porter: So we ran a multi-wave design as you said where about a week before the debate we recruited people over Mechanical Turk to answer some questions, just basic demographic questions as well as their attitudes toward the candidates and the parties. And at that point, we also got their availability. Could they watch TV on the day of the debate? We didn’t of course say, can you watch the debate because we didn’t anyways want to affect them at this point. We didn’t want the debate to prime them in any way. We also needed to know if they had cable news, right? And we needed to know if people had access to Fox News or MSNBC. Once we found out who had access to cable news and who was available to watch the debate on the day of the debate, at the time of the debate, we then randomly assigned people to watch either the debate on MSNBC and 30 minutes of the post debate coverage on MSNBC or the debate on Fox News, plus 30 minutes of post-debate coverage on Fox News.

Or we also assigned them to watch just the debate on Fox News, or just the debate on MSNBC or just the debate on C-SPAN. The idea here was as follows, right? You wanted people to watch the debate on CSPAN to sort of provide a pure control, to watch the debate totally unaffected by any of bells and whistles at the partisan media channels bring to bear in a debate. We also wanted people to watch the debate just on MSNBC or just on Fox News without watching the post debate coverage because we wanted to see first of all, if people might adjust their responses to our questions because they anticipated something about what we were trying to get at. Right? So for instance, if we’d seen that people in the Fox News condition who’d only watched the debate on Fox News were more positive toward Trump, we’d be a little skeptical about that and we might be skeptical about our results overall because we might’ve triggered something called… you might think of it as demand bias where subjects in a survey experiment, anticipate what you’re doing and adjust accordingly.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see that at all. Again, as I’ve said, watching the post-debate coverage on a particular channel did really seem to matter as opposed to just watching the debate on a particular channel. The final advantage of the multi-wave approach is that we got to measure any longterm effects of the debate. Maybe the debate inspires supporters of the winning candidates for 24 hours and demobilizes supporters of the losing candidates for 24 hours. Right? But it’s very possible that within a few days, another few media stories have come and gone and people are back to where they were before the debate, which this is the kind of thing we’re able to measure by employing a multi-wave design that in turn allowed us to measure effects a week after the debate.

Matt Grossmann: People really did watch the debate on the channel that they asked. Although a few might’ve watched post-debate coverage even if they were told not to.

Ethan Porter: Perhaps the most compelling evidence of compliance comes from what I thought was a kind of clever test we came up with were after the debate we showed study participants rows and columns of pictures of TV personalities associated with television networks. Okay? Now, it turns out that after a debate, some specific personalities come and actually spout whatever it is they’re spending on air, while other personalities who you think are coming don’t actually show up. We presented people with these images and we said, look, who on the channel you watched when you watch TV for this assignment actually showed up? Just click on the faces of the people who watched. Right? And we saw a pretty good accuracy on this measure, right?

So people who watched Fox News for instance, were far better at identifying Megan Kelly and Bret Baier’s faces as being people that actually watched, than say Charles Krauthammer and Chris Wallace, who they hadn’t watched and who weren’t on the air. Similar with Karl Rove, right? Karl Rove did not show up in the 30 minutes of Fox News post-debate coverage. We included his face anyways. Only 5% of Fox News post debate watchers clicked on Karl Rove’s face, which is about the standard error rate that we have in social science. Point being, people were generally compliant. Similar to MSNBC watchers. About 33% of people who watched MSNBC could recognize that Rachel Maddow was indeed on air as she was. While only about 6% said Chris Hayes was, or Lawrence O’Donnell for that matter. They’re both identifiable MSNBC faces, but were not on the post debate coverage.

If you watch the Fox news post debate coverage, right, or if we assigned you to watch the post debate coverage, about a 0.33 probability you would correctly know that Megan Kelly was on TV, right? You said you saw Megan Kelly on TV and indeed you were right. Right? Now if you watched Fox News, but we didn’t assign you to watch the post debate coverage, in fact, we specifically told you to turn off your television after the debate was over, you only said only point 0.13 probability that you would identify Megan Kelly as being on your TV. What does that indicate to us? That indicates that some people definitely watched TV after we assigned them to do so, but not a lot, right? Not that many. Not in a way that actually causes us great concern.

Matt Grossmann: They asked people lots of perceptual questions, not just who won, finding some broad effects.

Ethan Porter: When we ask who won the debate, we thought about this a lot. If we asked people who won the debate, are we asking them who they think won the debate or are we asking them to kind of regurgitate the mainstream media wisdom on this point? Right? This is something we’re not really sure. Right? We’re sure some people interpret it differently. Although again, we did various things to help resolve that, and because we weren’t entirely sure what the who one question meant, we asked all these specific questions about the candidate’s perceived persuasiveness, did they avoid gaffs, were they presidential, do they have command of the issues? Right? Did they likely appeal to Independents? Did they show they cared about people like me? And what we found was reasonably straightforward and consistent with our broader story. Then said, if you watch the MSNBC debate coverage, post-debate coverage, you evaluated Clinton more positively along all of these measures, right? Similarly, if you watch Fox, you evaluated Trump more positively around all of these measures.

Matt Grossmann: Clinton was widely perceived to have won, but not for those who watched Fox News coverage.

Ethan Porter: The people who watched MSNBC were strikingly similar in their estimates of who’d won compared to the MSNBC debate watchers, right? Which to us leads us to think that again, if you recall, people thought Hillary Clinton had done better on this debate, right? And people who didn’t watch any post-debate coverage thought so too, right? So evaluations of Clinton were pretty reasonably high except in this condition where you’re watching the Fox News post debate coverage, right? They really managed to oppress attitudes toward along all these dimensions.

Matt Grossmann: Fox even gave Trump extra time after the debate, not just skewed analysis.

Ethan Porter: Fox news didn’t just feature a Trump surrogate making Trump’s case. Trump was given control of the airwaves with a very friendly interview by Sean Hannity immediately after the debate. Right? So this is like, this is, as you say, maybe max example of persuasion because after the post debate coverage, Trump was given an unfettered microphone basically to share his message and readable his message to listeners, which is pretty wild actually.

And what did we learn from that? We learned that it made people think he did better in the debate, but it didn’t move people to vote for him. So this suggests, as you say, that maybe there’s a ceiling on persuasion that can come through debates and post debate coverage. And maybe there’s this, and I think oftentimes, we overestimate Trump’s political skills, right? We frequently read into him as being some kind of political mastermind. And maybe he’s just an ordinary sort of presidential level political figure, making him sort of talented and capable of persuading some people, but not shifting the fault lines of American politics in the sense of actually being able to convert mass numbers of Democrats to Republicans, and so on.

Matt Grossmann: Porter says the Fox effect fits with other evidence, but there might also be broad MSNBC effects if people watch that channel as much.

Ethan Porter: This is an effect that has been written about for many years by many scholars other than us who have said look, actually Fox News is capable of increasing Republican vote share. Right? And this is canonical findings in the media economy literature. We obviously don’t have anything on vote share of our choice here, but we do have evidence though, attesting to the idea that Fox is an unusually powerful propagator of support and reasons to support the Republican candidate. Right? So an interesting result from the third wave that we found is that even a third, among moderate partisans, the effects were reasonably substantial a week later, which we think is pretty interesting. And Fox news depressed support among moderate Democrats for Clinton, even a week later. Interestingly, to also be clear, MSNBC boosted support for Clinton among moderate Republicans a week later. Right? So I think some of this is a Fox News story, but there’s also a way in which well maybe Fox News effect is mitigated however slightly by an MSNBC effect. Right? Or perhaps that was the case in 2016.

Matt Grossmann: Stewart says the study fits with his evidence because the key moments selected by the media afterwards are often those with the biggest audience responses.

Patrick Stewart: The work that Ethan Porter and his colleagues are doing is important replication research. It’s something that we’ve known for a long time, is that bending beforehand and then the framing afterwards is really important for how people perceive, especially the general election debates. I think what’s important, especially when we’re dealing with so much information, is how it’s framed afterwards and those memes. They’re constantly replayed, and it’s difficult to watch all these debates. Now, especially in the case of all these debates that we had in the previous electoral cycle. Now we’ve got fewer, but there’s still a lot, it’s two nights in a row. So being able to parse out that noise to see what are the key moments that tell us the most about the candidates. And humor is really telling as far as what the candidates are like. So certainly those meme worthy moments are very important because people watch them again and again.

Matt Grossmann: He looks at verbal and nonverbal displays and how the audience responds to each comment.

Patrick Stewart: The first way that I look at this as I look at the visual framing that it comes from the producers of the different networks and how they visually present the candidate. So that’s really the first joint. Speaking time certainly matters, but how do you present the candidates? And that’s another recent article that I’ve had building off some incredible research by Eric Busey.

The second thing I’ll look at is, well, how do the candidates use their time? And so that’s the facial display is the nonverbals and the linguistic aspect. The third thing is what we’re focusing on right here in this discussion is how does the audience respond to the candidates? And that right there is most fascinating because by cutting the speaking time into such small chunks, you have to be pithy. You have to have those meme worthy moments, in which case you develop, you assert yourself as the candidate for the public to pay attention. Right now we have 20 democratic party candidates. It is hard for me, and I’m a political scientist who does this stuff for the living that I do, to keep track of them. So certainly their being able to stand out on the stage to not just political scientists such as you and myself, but also to the media and the general public becomes really important.

Matt Grossmann: Stewart says, Trump established himself in 2016 through his debate response.

Patrick Stewart: The Fox news debate in Cleveland was immense for Trump. It established him as a candidate. The first debate everyone was watching, he didn’t make a fool of himself, but more importantly, people paid attention and treated him with respect, with applause and laughter. That mattered. So the by the next debate which was held in the Ronald Reagan Library and it was very much more of an elite crowd was one that wasn’t necessarily as supportive, but still the laughter was there. The applause was there, albeit not to the great extent that was the case in Cleveland.

Matt Grossmann: The candidates this year are also trying to create meme-worthy moments.

Patrick Stewart: The last few nights that we’ve looked at, the last two debates, second cycle of debates, as we saw laughter being used a lot more. And I think part of it is is that certainly you want to get your audience on the side, but beyond that, once you have these great clips, they turn into meme worthy moments, which I think to a great extent the second screening approach where people are on their phones while they’re watching the debates and they’re sharing these moments and they’re tweeting about it, is becoming more important.

So I think that if you’re a front runner, this is very important. It’s now more important than was the case previously with a slow news cycle, when you’re trying to work your way up into the top tier, is that you’ll use these meme worthy quips to move forward. And we’ve seen it with both Bernie Sanders when he talked about that, I wrote the damn bill. And we saw it with Elizabeth Warren with her comments on why would you run for presidency if you’re not going to change things, in the first night. But we also saw on the second night with one front runner who really has raised his star, which is Cory Booker, when he’s talking about dipping into the Koolaid and something that was said about in his neighborhood and this was an incredible quip for a lot of different reasons. First of all, it got the audience response. It was a meme worthy moment.

Matt Grossmann: Porter agrees that primary debates may matter more than general election debates as voters don’t get obvious party cues.

Ethan Porter: As you know, people’s views in a primary election are more fluid. They’re not just on party ID. If they’re voting in the primary, their party ID is more solidified. But whether or not it’s solidified enough to withstand a barrage of critical post-debate coverage, I think it remains to be seen. The other thing to keep in mind with primary debates is that there’s so much more intra-party fighting that goes on along this sort of at the border… sort of not at the border. There’s a lot of intra-party fighting about detailed policy matters, right, that I’m not sure are particularly appealing to most voters. The thing that stands out about presidential debates in the general election season is that there’s not much in the way of unpredictable policy disagreement. Both candidates go through a rather wrote list of issues that they disagree with rather predictably. That’s not really the case in primaries. It would be interesting to know if post-debate coverage could interact with policy discussions that occur on stage during primary debates.

Matt Grossmann: Stewart says a once invisible primary competition now plays out on television.

Patrick Stewart: It’s not so invisible anymore. With the 24 hour news cycle and the need to provide entertainment for the masses and to make money off of it, the political debates that we have, especially ones with presidential candidates, are increasingly popular, very popular. I would say to a certain extent they are augmenting sporting events.

Matt Grossmann: But Porter still worries debates may have less influence in the real world.

Ethan Porter: Are most people watching the debates for 90 minutes and then watching 30 minutes of post debate coverage on Fox News or MSNBC? Nope, definitely not. People are watching a few minutes or catching a glimpse. They might turn it on and off. Although that having been said, we would argue that our results are more realistic than compelling students to watch a debate in a classroom or getting subjects to watch a debate in some kind of laboratory precisely because it’s very likely that our subjects are also distracted. Right? We had no control. Maybe people turn the channel, right? Maybe people put it on mute when their kids came in. We have no idea if that more closely approximates how people actually watch these debates.

Our study, with that in mind, you might think of it as like a study that’s capturing like the ceiling of what these network’s post debate coverage shows can do. Right? What can they actually do in the real world when we’ve got reason to believe that people are watching them? What are they actually shifting? And they’re shifting some candidate evaluations but they’re not shifting votes. Right? So again, I sort of harken back to the beginning of our conversation, right, where the media and members of the public sometimes assert that media coverage can make a Democrat or Republican and vice versa at the ballot box. And we don’t have any evidence of that from this study.

Matt Grossmann: Debates can change impressions, but at least in his study, perhaps not votes.

Ethan Porter: The affects are all pretty small, but they’re significant and substantial, which suggests that they’re like different registers or different levels upon which people are evaluating debates. One, and again this is speculative but might help sort of structure our thinking, right? And one level of evaluations might just be along these sort of micro questions. Where they persuasive? Do they avoid caustic gaffs? Were they presidential, right? And these specific items, right, maybe they have an effect on this bigger issue of how did my guy or gal do, right? And that’s sort of the deeper issue. And on the second level, on this deeper level of how did my person do, there’s maybe a weak relationship between the first level and the second level. There’s also like a third level, right, which is the most important level to candidates, right?

Which is, well, am I going to change my vote? Right? Because that fundamentally is what candidates are trying to do. They’re trying to win over voters, right? They’re trying to get people to go to the polls. And this level, you’d think based on our evidence, is virtually unaffected by debates, right? So there might be minor movement in these sort of micro issues. There might even be moving about preferences toward the sort of perceptions of who won. But on this deepest level, it doesn’t seem people are changing their minds with whom to vote for based on partisan media’s depiction of debates.

Matt Grossmann: Porter says Democrats may have made the right decision and not debating on Fox News.

Ethan Porter: Our evidence indicates that that’s a wise position for Democratic candidates to take. I mean, a network like Fox is wired in to support Republican messaging, just as a network like MSNBC has at least in the past been wired into support democratic messaging. Right? This can come in all sorts of ways. Maybe it’s a question of who gets access, right? So in the case of the presidential debate that we studied, Donald Trump wanted to shore up his supporters views, he had a friendly interview with Sean Hannity. Right? You could imagine a nightmare for the Democrats would be they go on Fox News, they have their debate, and then immediately after Donald Trump goes on and gives a rebuttle. That doesn’t seem out of the question. And based on our evidence, that might actually affect people’s evaluations of the candidates. I think the post-debate spin can matter. It doesn’t matter for the most important outcomes, but in terms of evaluating candidates in a primary, it certainly could matter.

Matt Grossmann: Stewart points out that reporters and scholars are still too focused on policy discussions in the debates instead of the impressions that voters get.

Patrick Stewart: There’s always going to be a role for the issues. But I think if we start from the baseline that we humans are visceral beings where our interactions are visual interactions. We’ve got a larger visual cortex. The language that we learn is something that most people stop really focusing on language about the time they get out of high school or college. As academics, of course we’re going to focus on the words and I think that leads to a blind spot for us. A really important blind spot is looking at what other people look at. And so when I look at the nonverbal communication that goes on, it’s a reflection of my experience coming from what is arguably a lower class working class background and from teaching people at community colleges and at regional institutions where we dealt with people who were working class or in poverty, and seeing that what matters to them was what they could see, not necessarily what they read.

Matt Grossmann: He says audience response was one of the first signs of public opinion.

Patrick Stewart: One of the important ways of looking at the elections that we have right now, especially the ones that involve so many different candidates, is that the audience is doing essentially what they have done for millennia. We could look at evolutionary history and suggest that the first vote or these observable audience responses, whether it’s laughter, cheering, applauding, booing and chanting, these are all ways that the audience, the public, makes their views known.

Matt Grossmann: Next, he wants to see if it can matter for money and poll movement in the primaries.

Patrick Stewart: The next stage of my research has really seen, well, can we predict the future of candidates? How long they live in the race, or actually survive in the race is probably the best approach to saying that, by virtue of their ability to get laughter and applause and is that reflected on how much money they make and their public opinion standing? I think it’s something that I referred to within the presidential studies quarterly piece in 2012, that laughter was a pretty good indicator. It wasn’t a an incredible indicator, but certainly it did play its role. But with such a large field, I think we have the opportunity to see what really is driving people’s choice for presidential candidates.

Matt Grossmann: And this year’s democratic debates might provide a golden opportunity.

Patrick Stewart: First of all, I’m going to be replicating and extending on the study that I did with visual framing, and that’s a pre-registered report right now. What I’m also going to be looking at is how humor is utilized. I might have to extend for the first two debates because all we’ve got is an incredible experiment that the Democratic party put in front of us by first of all randomly assorting the candidates into upper tier and then lower tier, but then also randomly assigning them to different nights. So we’ve got an experiment going on there. Now that’s one of the things I’m looking at, but then some of the other things I’m looking at is the charismatic prowess of Ronald Reagan and this is really the start of the happy warrior approach. And it’s one thing that was noted by Rahm Emanuel before last night’s debate is that there is no happy warrior out there. But I think our happy warriors are starting to emerge in this election, and I think Booker is definitely one of those candidates who is filled in that void.

Matt Grossmann: Porter’s next step is looking at the everyday effects of Fox News and whether misinformation can be corrected.

Ethan Porter: My coauthors and I are really interested in further figuring out what are media effects like in the age of partisan media on television and what are media effects like in the age of partisan media that actually exists in people’s homes, on people’s personal computers, et cetera. So what we’re working on now is a further study of Fox News’ sort of everyday effects on people’s attitudes. And for this study we’re not actually using a laboratory, we’re not using a student sample, trying to have really sort of rapid, almost real life conditions that we put people in when we have them, when we try to measure the effectiveness of Fox news programming. That’s sort of a short term project related to this.

I guess the other exciting thing, I’ve got a book coming out also coauthored with Tom Wood and I. Tom Wood and I have a short book called False Alarm coming out with the Cambridge Series Elements in American Politics series where we just talk about claims about American’s factual receptivity in the Trump era. And in fact, we ran an experiment for this book on the same night we were running this debate experiment you and I have talked about. We doubled up. And in that book we find basically that even Trump supporters are receptive to factual corrections of Donald Trump. Overall, Americans are receptive to factual corrections, and yet this receptivity, as measured by the post treatment accuracy increases, do not affect who they’re voting for or what policies they support.

Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The Science of Politics is available biweekly from Niskanen Center. I’m your host, Matt Grossman. Thanks to Ethan Porter and Patrick Stewart for joining me. Please check out “Presidential Debates in the Age of Partisan Media” and “Please Clap” and then listen in next time.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]