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Presidential debate 2016: start time, live stream, and what to expect

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

It’s almost here! The first general election presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will take place at 9 pm Eastern Monday and is scheduled to last for 90 minutes, with no breaks. It will take place at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

You probably won’t have a hard time tracking down the debate on television, since most major networks and news channels — CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, PBS, Univision, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, C-SPAN, and a few more — will air the debate live.

If you prefer an online stream, though, you're in luck — we've embedded it above, courtesy of NBC News.

What to expect at the first Clinton-Trump presidential debate

It’s a cliché to say that this is a high-stakes event, but, well, it really is a high-stakes event. Political science evidence shows that presidential polls have frequently moved by a few points during debate season. And recent polling indicates that while Hillary Clinton remains ahead of Donald Trump both nationally and in swing states, the race is very close indeed.

National polling averages currently give Clinton a lead of 2 to 4 points. And she still leads in most recent polls from the key swing states she needs to get her to just over 270 electoral votes and therefore to victory — Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. But Clinton has little room for error, since the other swing states are either total toss-ups (Florida, North Carolina) or now appear to be leaning toward Trump (Ohio, Iowa).

Overall, Trump is currently performing better than many political observers expected. Whether that’s due to recent bad news cycles for Clinton, Clinton’s fundamental weaknesses as a candidate, or partisan polarization helping Trump isn’t entirely clear. However, he is still on track to lose unless something changes ... which brings us to this debate.

Trump has clearly done a good job consolidating Republican voters and party figures behind him in the past few weeks. But now he needs to reach out to swing voters who have failed to embrace his candidacy so far. One way he could go about that is that, like Mitt Romney in the first debate of 2012, he could try to come off as a reasonable moderate, in an effort to convince voters that everything they’ve heard about him is wrong.

Of course, this is Donald Trump we’re talking about, so he could well go in an entirely different direction — stoking a risky and dramatic confrontation of some kind to score a "win," rather than simply trying to reassure concerned voters about his temperament. Keep in mind, though, that Trump never — never! — participated in a primary debate when he was trailing in the polls, so it’s unclear how he might handle being in such a position.

Another wild card is the moderator, Lester Holt. Over the past few weeks, members of the media have been hotly debating whether debate moderators should step in and try to fact-check false statements from the candidates on the spot. "Lester is not going to be a potted plant," an anonymous NBC staffer told CNN’s Brian Stelter. Meanwhile, Trump has preemptively tried to discredit any intervention by Holt by claiming that Holt is biased because he’s a Democrat — which is false, as Holt is a registered Republican.

As for Clinton, she needs to reassure voters who are concerned about her own character and trustworthiness. The conversation of late has focused mainly on Trump and his own weaknesses, and Clinton may need to do more to make the case for herself. But Trump will be right with her onstage, so she’ll need to be able to parry his attacks and be prepared to rebut his false statements.

Now, as for what the candidates will discuss, the topics for this debate will be "America's Direction," "Achieving Prosperity," and "Securing America," all of which are so vague that they effectively tell us nothing. But the economy, immigration, and terrorism will likely get a lot of airtime.

How to watch:

When: 9 pm Eastern

Where: Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York

TV: CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, PBS, Univision, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, C-SPAN, etc.

Online: At the top of this page!

How presidential debates are won and lost

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