President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are about to face off in their pivotal first general election debate.
The debate will air Tuesday, September 29, from 9 pm ET to 11 pm ET; that’s 8-10 pm CT, 7-9 pm MT; and 6-8 pm PT. Moderated by Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace, the debate will take place at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio.
The debate will be broadcast on multiple networks, including Fox, ABC, NBC, and CBS, as well as CNN, MSNBC, and CSPAN. It will be livestreamed on YouTube and is available to stream on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku. An audio version of the debate will also be broadcast on National Public Radio.
This will be the first onstage matchup between Biden and Trump in a heated and contentious general election.
Biden’s schedule of late has been consumed with debate prep with a team of his closest advisers, according to the New York Times. Trump, on the other hand, has mostly forgone traditional prep, although he recently told reporters he’s working with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and adviser Rudy Giuliani to prepare for Tuesday.
Wallace, the debate moderator, will focus on six debate topics: Trump’s and Biden’s records; the Supreme Court; the Covid-19 pandemic; the economy; race and violence in US cities; and the integrity of the November election. Another likely subject of discussion could be the recent New York Times bombshell investigation detailing years of Trump’s tax returns — including the revelation that Trump avoided paying taxes for multiple years.
Though the debate will be a marquee moment in the election, it’s unclear how many voters’ minds will actually be changed by it. A recent Monmouth University poll showed that while 74 percent of registered voters said they planned to watch the debate live, just 3 percent of voters said something they saw was ‘very likely’ to change their minds about whom they’d vote for.
For months, polls have shown both a stable race — with Biden enjoying a high-single-digit point lead in national polling and a narrower battleground state lead — and high percentages of voters who have already made up their minds. Neither of the party conventions this summer gave Trump or Biden a sustained polling bump.
At the same time, the debates are starting right as early voting periods in many states begin — which could mean it will help those few undecided voters decide who to vote for before November 3.
The state of the race, briefly explained
Biden is ahead in the polls: Throughout the summer, the polling picture hasn’t changed all that much. Biden leads Trump in both national polls and battleground state polls, although the race is narrower in the battleground states that will have a bigger hand in deciding the election.
According to the RealClearPolitics average, Biden has close to a seven-point lead in national polls and a little less than a four-point lead in battleground state polling. The battleground polls have tightened a bit in recent months, but overall, they show a pretty stable race that hasn’t wildly swung one way or the other. The debate could change the trajectory of things, or the polls might continue to be impervious to things like conventions and debates.
The coronavirus and the economy will play an outsized role: Few things have really made a dent on polling, but the coronavirus and its impact on the economy and schools is one of the biggest issues of the year. Despite Covid-19 cases falling for part of this summer, they appear to be on the rise as we head into fall and winter. Some of the most concerning spikes are happening in Midwestern states like Wisconsin — also a crucial swing state for the election.
Biden will almost certainly continue to hammer a message at the center of his campaign: Trump’s poor federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic is making the US recovery longer and more uncertain. Trump’s once-booming economy used to be the centerpiece of his reelection message, but that’s going to be a tougher argument to make with millions out of work and no clear end to the pandemic in sight.
One thing’s for certain: With the economy and Covid-19 both on the table Tuesday night, Biden and Trump will certainly have plenty to spar over.