General election presidential debates are highly argumentative encounters filled with evidence, argument, and refutation. While the candidates come to the debates armed with evidence and arguments in support of their positions, it is unclear how the audience interprets the information. This paper reports the findings from a study of the first presidential debate in 2012. Participants evaluated the strength of arguments made by Obama and Romney, as well as which candidate won each segment of the debate. The study confirms that viewers do not dispassionately evaluate the debate, but instead are driven by partisan interests that lead them to find their candidate made stronger arguments and won the debate. Partisan motivations overwhelmed the structural changes in the 2012 debate format designed to encourage more in-depth discussion of the topic.
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Jarman, Jeffrey W.
"Motivated Reasoning and Viewers' Reactions to the First 2012 Presidential Debate,"
Speaker & Gavel: Vol. 53
, Article 8.
Available at: http://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/speaker-gavel/vol53/iss1/8