Unusual interest, expectations await vice presidential candidates in debate, expert says

MU’s presidential debate expert is available for media commentary about the Oct. 7 vice presidential debate.

Oct. 5, 2020
Eric Stann, 573-882-3346, StannE@missouri.edu
Mitchell S. McKinney, 573-489-9709, McKinneyM@missouri.edu

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the university’s official stance.

picture of Mitchell S. McKinney

Mitchell S. McKinney

President Donald Trump’s recent positive test for COVID-19 is dramatically changing the final days of the race to the White House. As Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris prepare for their one and only vice presidential debate this Wednesday night, expectations are unusually high, said presidential debate expert Mitchell S. McKinney, director of the Political Communication Institute at the University of Missouri.

Based on his previous analysis, McKinney notes while vice presidential debates have typically drawn substantially fewer viewers than the presidential debates and are less consequential for the outcome of an election, he said the upcoming Pence-Harris debate will likely be one of the highest viewed — and most consequential — vice presidential debates in history.

“There was already heightened interest in this vice presidential debate with the inclusion of the first female candidate of color, Kamala Harris,” McKinney said. “Now, with the ongoing concern focused on both presidential candidates following President Trump’s positive coronavirus test, Americans will be anxious to hear from these running mates, who could possibly be required to assume the presidency themselves.”

McKinney’s experience includes serving as a staff member in both the U.S. Senate and the White House, consulting with the Commission on Presidential Debates on the development of the “town hall” debate format and how debates can be structured in order to better educate citizens on significant campaign issues. His expertise has also been featured in BBC World News, CNN, C-SPAN, NPR, Reuters and The Washington Post.

McKinney has conducted extensive research on debate performances by vice presidential candidates, including the numerous primary debates involving Harris during this current election cycle and Pence’s 2016 vice presidential debate.

“First and foremost, the vice presidential candidates must demonstrate their own fitness for the presidency in this debate,” McKinney said. “Second, they must also vigorously defend their running mates, because the presidential candidates are the most frequent target of attacks in vice presidential debates.”

McKinney suggests Americans will pay greater attention to the Pence-Harris debate following the large reaction from last week’s first debate between Trump and Biden.

“There’s now heightened expectations for the vice presidential candidates to actually demonstrate a more presidential demeanor in their debate exchange, with citizens eager to see if these candidates can meet on the debate stage and engage in a more reasoned and deliberative discussion that was totally lacking in the first presidential debate encounter,” he said.

Editor’s Note: To view McKinney’s bio, please click here.

To arrange an interview with Professor McKinney, please contact Eric Stann at 573-882-3346 or StannE@missouri.edu.

Subscribe to

Show Me Mizzou

Stay up-to-date with the latest news by subscribing to the Show Me Mizzou newsletter.