There’s a larger purpose for holding the US presidential debates

Weighing the options. (Reuters/Jim Young)
Weighing the options. (Reuters/Jim Young)
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After many months of campaign speeches and less than two months to go before Election Day, the US presidential candidates seem to have been talking forever. Yet, ahead of a first US presidential debate that’s expected to draw over 100 million American viewers, most voters don’t know where the candidates stand on important issues.

A new poll by Pew Research says that only 48% of voters know a lot about where Hillary Clinton stands on the most significant issues at stake in this election. Trump’s stance on the major issues has eluded even more voters–only 41% said they know a lot about what he thinks. Some 30% of all voters say they know little or nothing about Trump’s opinions, while 18% said they know nothing or not much about Clinton’s.

In this highly polarized election, voters are more likely to know more about the candidates they support. Republicans are nearly twice as likely to say that they know a lot about what Trump thinks about the issues than Democrats. Of voters who identify as Republican or lean Republican, 58% said that they knew a lot about how Trump thought about the most important issues, while 30% who identify as Democrats or lean Democratic said they knew a lot about Trump’s opinions.

What issues do voters care about? According to a Pew Research survey conducted in June that asked voters to imagine that they were moderating the presidential debate, voters said they wanted to hear the candidates’ plans on keeping the US safe from terrorism and their thoughts on the economy.

With the debate expecting to draw an audience the size of the Super Bowl, it will be an opportunity for voters to hear exactly what both candidates think.