(WHTM) — Two weeks before the general election, U.S. Senate candidates John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz faced off in their only debate, hosted by abc27. With that debate done, abc27 asked experts what kind of an impact it will have on the outcome of this race.
Experts said debates don’t typically have a major impact since most voters have made up their minds. However, because this senate race is so close, some experts said the debate could sway undecided voters, a group that could tip the balance for either candidate.
“As close as this senate race is, I think this debate counted,” Shippensburg University political science professor Alison Dagnes said.
Dagnes said the current political climate is so polarized, debates often have little impact.
“We’re so furious at the other party that we’re going to vote for our team whether it kills us or not,” she said.
However, Tuesday’s Pennsylvania senate debate could reach some voters.
“Voters who aren’t really politically engaged or those who change their minds from election to election,” Dagnes explained.
St. Joseph’s University political science professor Joe Powers said the debates could affect voter turnout.
“[They] will play a role in determining how the various campaigns will be able to mobilize their voters,” he said.
Powers also said the fact that the debate was held two weeks before the election matters.
“There’s a very large group of voters who have already cast their ballots,” he said.
Over 600,000 Pennsylvanians have already voted by mail. Nearly 700,000 more have also requested mail-in ballots. Of the 1.3 million mail-in ballots requested, the vast majority — 70 percent — have been requested by Democrats. Twenty percent have been requested by Republicans, and just 7.8 percent have been requested by voters not affiliated with either party.
However, not everyone agrees that mail-in voting is a major factor.
“Pennsylvania has historically been a state where people vote in person on Election Day,” Widener University law professor Quinn Yeargain said.
Yeargain argues standout moments from the debate are more likely to impact voters.
“As moments of the debate go viral on social media, appear on places like TikTok, I think that the debate can have an effect,” they said.
Yeargain pointed out Oz’s comments on abortion as one such moment. During the debate, Oz said when making decisions about abortion he wants “women, doctors, local political leaders” involved.
“It’s hard to imagine a more gift-wrapped remark for the Fetterman campaign,” Yeargain said.
Yeargain also referred to Fetterman’s stumbles. While Yeargain said there was not just one memorable line, they said there were multiple times Fetterman struggled.
“Republicans can point to a number of times when Fetterman gave weak answers, especially on fracking for example,” Yeargain said.
When pressed during the debate on having given conflicting statements about his support for fracking, Fetterman struggled to articulate a response.
Experts said as Election Day approaches, swing voters are the ones to watch as well as voters still making up their minds.
“The voters who voted for Trump in 2016 and then who voted for Biden in 2020,” Dagnes explained.
Powers said of the debate, “I’m not sure that the status quo has changed that much except I will say it again, that sliver of voters who are going to decide what is arguably the most important race in the United States in this election cycle.”
abc27 also asked experts about the other major state race for governor. Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican Doug Mastriano are not debating, so what impact could that have? Powers said he does not expect it to have any impact given Shapiro’s significant lead in the polls.