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Biden Has the Disadvantage at Tuesday's Presidential Debate, North Texas Experts Say

A new poll shows Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tied with President Donald Trump.EXPAND
A new poll shows Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tied with President Donald Trump.
Gage Skidmore

President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are tied at 48% each among Texas voters, according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling.

To the Texas Democratic Party, the tie indicates that the state’s voters are ready to ditch Trump.

“Texas is the biggest battleground state in the country,” TDP Executive Director Manny Garcia said in a statement. “At the outset of the first presidential debate, poll after poll shows that Texans are ready for change.”

This comes as Trump and Biden gear up for their first debate on Tuesday. Yet some experts believe the event may not have much sway on the way that Texans vote.

Professor Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, who is chair of the political science department at the University of North Texas, said that Trump’s support will likely remain steady regardless of his debate performance. That’s typical for the incumbent, he said, so there’s more for Biden to lose.

Yet one thing could help Biden during the debates: Trump’s tax returns. Sunday, The New York Times released information from decades of the president’s long-hidden returns, revealing chronic financial losses.

Calling the leaked returns a “gift” to Biden, Eshbaugh-Soha said that Trump is now going to enter the debate on the defensive. Still, he said that most people already made up their minds about Trump and his taxes back in 2016, when he refused to release them under claims that they were being audited.

“I don’t know if it’s really going to affect people’s preferences for one over the other, but I think it can shape the dynamic of the debate,” Eshbaugh-Soha said.

While Trump’s fanbase is exceedingly loyal, Biden’s support is more lackluster, Eshbaugh-Soha said. As such, there’s more pressure on him to perform, he said.

Personal politics aside, Trump does “remarkably well” in debates, said Brian Lain, director of debate at UNT and an associate professor in communication studies. The president speaks passionately and uses refutation tactics to his advantage, Lain said; even when he’s backed into a corner, he’s able to effectively deflect.

For his part, Biden did not perform particularly well during the primary debates, Lain said. Part of that could be because he was already the frontrunner, who also enjoyed a substantial financial advantage.

To win over undecided voters, and to keep lukewarm ones, Biden will need to be more animated this time around, Lain said.

“He’d be better off if there were no debates at all, if he could just keep things the way that they are,” Lain said. “Of course, he’s got to show up, in more ways than one.”

More people are expected to watch Tuesday’s event than did the first presidential debate in 2016, Lain said. The viewership may be augmented in part because of the pandemic, which has effectively wiped out most forms of live entertainment, he said.

Many Americans may be unhappy with the president’s policies and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Lain said. Even still, some swing voters are unsure whether Biden is the leader they want, he said.

Eshbaugh-Soha said that debates don’t typically have an enormous impact on the way that people vote. Even though Trump has never performed well in Texas, many right-of-center voters may not be able to stomach voting for Biden, he said.

Some news networks have announced they will be conducting live fact-checking during the debate, Lain said. Still, facts have become negotiable in recent years, he said.

As such, people will vote for who they believe they can trust, Lain said, and many don't have trust built up with Biden.

“When you talk about trust, that’s not really an area that fact-checking is going to convince the audience on,” Lain said. “Trust is how you come across in these debates, and so Biden has his work cut out for him.”

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