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Was last night’s debate merely a spectacle?

Last night Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced off town-hall style in what CNN kept dubbing as a "gloves off" debate. The point of these events, as has been explained ad nauseam for weeks, is for candidates to speak to undecided voters, hitting on the important issues that could help these unsure few. Undecided voters make up as many as 15% of the electorate, which is a meaningful bunch. But did last night's verbal spar help shift their opinions?

I watched the debate last night with friends, and our consumption of the event was more akin to a horror movie. When one candidate said something noteworthy, we loudly gasped "ohhhhhhh" as if it were Drew Barrymore on her cordless phone in Scream. FiveThirtyEight's snap poll coverage seems to confirm these observations, in that Trump—who truly needed to use the time to bring in more supporters—wasn't able to convince the undecided few. Instead, his comments seemed to focus on those who he probably already had on his side.

That leaves the distinct feeling that last night's debates, if not most debates for that matter, was just a TV thing to watch; no one left with a different opinion than before, but they all just wanted to witness the carnage. Is there a way to fix this system? There are some amendments that could be made to make the format more effective. But it likely won't be implemented by the third and final debate next week. CW

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