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October 2nd, 2012
08:28 PM ET

Can the debates swing Super PAC spending?

The candidates are certainly hoping to bring their A game tomorrow night, but exactly how important are these debates to voters? Can they swing the election?

We checked in with our independent political strike team.

Ken Vogel is one member of our political strike team who answered no to that question. But he does say they matter for another key reason: Super Pac spending.

OutFront tonight: Ken Vogel, Chief Investigative Reporter for POLITICO.

Taegan Goddard: No, it's highly unlikely that the presidential debates will dramatically change the trajectory of this race at this point unless something dramatic and unexpected happens.

Nia-Malika Henderson: No.  Debates don't change people’s minds.  And those 6 percent of undecided voters are low information and unengaged voters who won't totally break for one side, and might not even show up at the polls.

LZ Granderson: Yes, but it depends on where that 6 percent is located. If they're in traditionally red or blue states, then probably not. But if these voters are concentrated in swing states then we're talking about a large number of electoral votes being up for grabs. And keep in mind; this isn't just about the White House. If a candidate says something regarding social issues that turn voters off, that could impact the make up of Congress as well.

Dante Chinni: Yes, but only if something very very big happens. If we are sitting around Thursday with most people thinking it was pretty even with no major gaffes, then the fundamentals will be unchanged. And, to use and over-used sports analogy, the clock is a factor for Romney now. There simply isn't much time left for him.

David Walker: Yes, the candidates' performance in the debates can and probably will determine the winner of this year's Presidential election. The six percent undecided figure is misleading because it is based on what people know and think as of a point in time. People can and do change their mind based on new information.

Mark Preston: The debates are going to be critical in helping the “undecided voters” make their decision about who to vote for in November. While some of the state polling shows Barack Obama opening up a lead on Mitt Romney, the race is still too close to call. A strong performance Wednesday night by either candidate will help the “winner” of the debate in terms of momentum, earned media and perhaps fundraising. A poor performance, well, I think you know what could happen.

Maegan Carberry: YES. It isn't so much about convincing the undecided voters as it is the potential to depress turnout. A bad performance by either Obama or Romney could further the mounting sense that the 2012 race is disappointing in the wake of 2008, and once-enthusiastic voters could just decide to check out if things get more absurd or low-brow.

Candy Crowley: It is mathematically possible for 6 percent to sway an outcome in a close race.  Theoretically, it is possible the debates will be watched by undecideds.   Therefore, yes.

Omar H. Ali: Yes, the debates might well change enough voters' minds to sway the election. But this rests on two basic assumptions about our electoral system: (A) that the presidential election is simply about the Democratic and Republican candidates and (B) that the only meaningful way of participating in electoral politics is as a Democratic or Republican voter.

Regarding the first matter, given that the Commission on Presidential Debates is a bi-partisan organization that excludes any 'outsiders' (i.e. independents) from being part of the debates–with the exception of 1992, when Ross Perot garnered twenty million votes as an independent (and was never allowed in again!)–the framing of only two options keeps Americans from thinking outside of a two-party framework ... and yet 42% of voters in the nation self-identify as independent. Regarding the second matter, independents were not only the margin of victory in 2008 but also in 2010, but did not become either Democrats in '08 or Republicans in '10.

Having more options in the electoral system would allow for a greater range of issues to be raised and the possibility for greater innovation. In this way, independents seem to be asking not only for new issues to be discussed in the debates and otherwise, but new, less-partisan-driven ways of discussing issues.

Scott Wong: Yes, anything can happen in these debates. But it would take a major gaffe to sway the election, which is unlikely since both Obama and Romney are experienced and polished debaters.

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