The Vice Presidential Debate Did Nothing For Voters

Last week’s Vice Presidential debate left questions dodged, ignored, and uncovered.


Aidan Hollinger Miles

The Vice Presidential debate was not intended to change voters’ minds, rather to reassure them of their vote for a specific candidate. Following the debate, there was no substantial change in the support for either campaign, and questions regarding large issues were left unanswered.

The two candidates, Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence, approached the debate with different purposes. Senator Harris wanted to affirm her legitimacy for office and avoid providing the Trump campaign with soundbites, painting her as a “radical leftist.” She also aimed to use her prosecution skills and experience to attack erroneous claims made by Pence. 

Pence approached the debate with a similar stance to the way he approaches his job as Vice President. It appears through his debate that one of his primary goals was to keep Trump happy and pleased. He also aimed at contrasting Trump’s insanity, presenting his stability and rationalized leadership with the intent of appealing to skeptical conservative voters, disturbed by Trump’s demeanor. 

For both candidates, the debate began strong. Senator Harris did what she is best at through prosecuting and indicting. With the debate being a one-on-one, it forced Harris to be on the defense, something she was unfamiliar with while in the Democratic Primaries. She utilized certain strategic debate tricks to avoid being overly defensive by turning every claim by Pence against him and the Trump Administration.

Unfortunately, but not surprising, the double standard for women is still a factor in how people vote and view debates. Kamala Harris, a woman of color, debated a white man, Mike Pence, in front of 75 million people. Instead of policy matters, the debate’s dynamics ended as the most notable highlights in post-debate polling. The negative comments from voters on Senator Harris were that she was, “too abrupt, condescending, aggressive, and fake” (Frank Lutz focus group polling of 56 undecided voters). This is proof of the double standard our society holds in politics which denies women and non-white people equal access to succeeding. However, as seen in the debate, Harris’ resilience and brilliance allow her to overcome these societal barriers of racism and sexism. 

The majority of negative comments on Vice President Pence were simply that he, as one voter put it, “wasn’t powerful enough and atypical, boring politician.” Similar people also claimed that the power dynamics were not decisive for their vote, resulting in their opinions on the candidates unswayed. 

Both candidates did the job they set out to do in the debate. They avoided moving the needle in any direction. Results show that undecided voters were still stagnant in their vote, excluding small groups who moved towards Biden. This stagnancy could prove detrimental for Trump, who, polls show, needs to sway many voters to win the 2020 election.

Multiple press leaks revealed that the President did not want Pence to make a show and do better in polling than he did. This is not shocking for many voters, as Trump has always wanted to be the main attraction and appear as the winner.

Both debaters avoided and ignored multiple crucial topics for voters.

One issue that was important to voters going into the debate was the role of the Vice President due to the record-breaking old age of the two presidential candidates. Unfortunately, the issue was only discussed for 3 minutes of the 90-minute debate. The discussion of Pence inheriting Trump’s presidential powers was avoided in the debate, as Pence did not want to anger the President. Senator Harris also did not invest much time in debating this topic. 

The Supreme Court is an issue thought to be incredibly decisive in this election for voters, due to Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s recent death. During the portion of the debate regarding the question of SCOTUS, Pence turned to Harris and asked her if she would want to pack the courts. While Harris could have likely won the argument, as court-packing has shown to be low in the ranks of actually important issues, she avoided the question. Thus, polling and analysis of the debate have given Pence a win in this portion.

On Pences’ side of avoiding debate questions, it was Coronavirus, the top issue for the American people right now. With the current Administration’s handling of the coronavirus being unsuccessful, it is understandable that Pence was unwilling to go head-on in defending their actions on this issue. Harris rightly indicted the Trump Administration, while Pence avoided the question, simply responding with “empathy” for the American people. Polling shows Harris won this segment.

Pence’s motivation to please Trump led to the failure of swaying voters, while Harris failed in not proficiently advocating for her policies. However, due to her prosecution skills, Harris still won by 59%-39%. This is notable, as post-debate polls have historically been the most accurate in predicting voter turnout by certain demographics in particular locations.

Through dodged questions and uncovered issues, both candidates failed to make much of a shift in the Presidential Race, leaving unswayed voters and an audience whose only takeaway was that a fly landed on Pence’s head. However, they did accomplish their goals of reaffirming support from already decided voters. There is still time, and while polls continue to go up for Democratic Nominee Joe Biden, the remaining Presidential Debates have the potential to reverse the trajectory of the race.