Three Things to Look for in the Presidential Debates

A Tufts political science professor explains how to decipher the candidates’ approaches
Watch Deborah Schildkraut as she explains what she sees as prime issues arising in the presidential debates. Video: Anna Miller
September 28, 2020


This election season, three presidential debates are scheduled for Sept. 29, Oct. 15, and Oct. 22—and the vice-presidential debate on Oct. 7. But what will the candidates focus on in the debates, and what does that portend for the final weeks before the Nov. 3 election?

In an election, “campaigns can have two main strategies that they can pursue, and they don’t always go well together,” says Deborah Schildkraut, J95, professor of political science and chair of that department at Tufts. “One is to mobilize the base. The other is to appeal to the middle.” The tension between these approaches is particularly intense for Democrats this year, and the debates will give a clue to the approaches the candidates will take, she says.

Schildkraut is the author of Americanism in the Twenty-First Century: Public Opinion in the Age of Immigration and Press 'One' for English: Language Policy, Public Opinion, and American Identity, and co-author of the textbook The Challenge of Democracy: American Government in Global Politics. Her research examines the implications of the changing ethnic composition of the United States on public opinion.

No matter what you think of the debates, Schildkraut says, don’t forget to “make your plan for when and how you’ll vote, if you’re eligible.”

Taylor McNeil can be reached at