Viewers should expect the unexpected when U.S. Democratic party presidential nominee Joe Biden and Republican President Donald Trump battle it out in the first presidential debate tonight in Cleveland, Ohio.
“Tonight could go any number of ways,” said Chris Irwin, a professor and program coordinator in the Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty at Humber College in Toronto.
“We’re dealing with a highly unconventional candidate in Donald Trump, and also dealing with a highly unconventional time,” Irwin said.
Independent voters will be key in the 2020 election, and what Democrats call ‘Biden Republicans’, “people from the centre of the republican party who do not recognize this party as their own anymore,” he said.
The questions remaining: how many are there? And are there enough to drastically change the election?
Polarization in the U.S. turned the goal of successful debating into a goal of voter mobilization. “They’re probably a little less afraid of who in their camp they could lose,” Irwin said.
Trump’s actions just in the past month offer an abundance of issues for Biden to pick at, but “an overarching theme for Biden will be the pandemic and the post-pandemic economy,” he said.
For Trump, accusations of Biden’s cognitive decline and demands for drug testing is part of his latest Twitter rant.
“Trump is well known for telling whoppers,” said Irwin. “But the people that tend to be sympathetic towards Trump don’t seem to take that kind of thing as seriously as people on the other side of other camps,” he said.
Also on everyone’s radar is the Supreme Court appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barret. “That was made with obvious political calculation in mind. And, you know, it’s a question of the kind of voter response you get towards it,” said Irwin.
However social media could play a new role in the 2020 election. “
You can certainly say that at this point, social media is now baked into the cake of electoral politics,” Irwin said.
“Social media, for maybe the first half of the last decade, was really cast as influencing younger people,” he said. “Now we’re also seeing very clear evidence that that voters on the right who might trend quite a bit older, are also social media users and are very influenced.”
Irwin suggests early October polling will reveal a lot of election night insight.
“The vote is settling a bit, and it’ll probably settle quite early, and it’ll be hard to move it unless something dramatic happens,” Irwin said.
The debate topics tonight will likely include; Trump and Biden records, Supreme Court, Covid-19, the economy, race and violence in cities, and the integrity of the election.
Where to Watch
CBC News Network will kick off their coverage with Canadian commentary at 7 p.m. and broadcast the debate at 9 p.m.
For those looking for online streaming alternatives, click on the links below.