NEW YORK -- In the minutes, hours and days after a presidential debate, political scientists, newscasters and the neighbor next door all chime in to answer one burning question: Who won the debate? As it turns out, there may not be a right answer.
"The difficulty in trying to assess who won and who lost is that victory is largely in the eyes of the beholder," said Dr. David Caputo, president emeritus and professor of political science at Pace University.
Some viewers look to make sure a candidate is responsive and not evasive to questions, while others judge a victor based on facts. Others still rely on nonverbal language, or commitment to an idea to help them decide a winner. Despite the array of judging criteria, Caputo believes there are several barometers that can be used to judge a candidate's success.
"I think there are clear factors in judging who won a debate," he said. "The most important one is an analysis of what the candidate was hoping to do with their debate, and if they achieved that goal."
For instance, "If Donald Trump was trying to speak to his base but reaching out to women and racial minorities, it's difficult to say he succeeded based on his responses to several questions," said Caputo. Conversely, "If what he was trying to do is say, 'I have an important business perspective, and that will make the United States a better county,' he very successfully weaved that into his answers."
When forming an opinion on who won, Caputo urges voters to consult a variety of sources. "With the wealth of knowledge available today people can be more informed than ever," he said. "However, many people go to the sources that reflect their values rather than look at a variety of opinions." By seeing things from another perspective, we're able to better answer the question of who won.
Deciding who wins and who loses a debate is hardly a new argument in America, Caputo explained. From the Lincoln-Douglas debates, news of which traveled across the nation in weeks, to the televised Kennedy-Nixon debates, if Americans can agree on anything it's that winning and losing is certainly up for interpretation.