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The 2016 elec­tion debate season offi­cially kicks off Thursday when Fox News hosts the first Repub­lican pres­i­den­tial debate, as well as an after­noon forum with the can­di­dates who didn’t make the cut for the debate. The two-​​hour prime-​​time debate (9–11 p.m. EDT) will fea­ture the 10 highest-​​polling can­di­dates thus far, and the after­noon forum (5–6 p.m. EDT) will fea­ture the remaining seven candidates.

Here, Alan Schroeder, a pro­fessor of jour­nalism in the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design and an expert on tele­vised debates, dis­cusses what he’s looking for in Thursday’s Repub­lican pres­i­den­tial pri­mary debate and offers tips for viewers to max­i­mize the experience.

On what he’s looking for in the Repub­lican debate and forum:

Clarity. You’ve got such a big field, and obvi­ously not all 17 of the can­di­dates will be the nom­inee. So the debate is an oppor­tu­nity to weed out the field a bit, more so in this elec­tion cycle than in pre­vious cycles. Usu­ally you have about eight serious con­tenders, but this is the first time in modern his­tory where you’re coming into a debate with nearly 20 candidates.

On who stands to gain or lose the most from a good or bad per­for­mance:

Donald Trump is at a cross­roads in his cam­paign. He’s caught fire in polls, but how much of that is a reac­tion to his celebrity status and his will­ing­ness to express him­self versus his actual poli­cies? This is a chance to show he’s a serious can­di­date. If he’s going to get beyond the nov­elty factor, he needs to use these oppor­tu­ni­ties to show people that he’s in it for more than ego grat­i­fi­ca­tion. The others who are under the most pres­sure are the other leading can­di­dates, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. They’re in a tricky posi­tion here. It’s dif­fi­cult to pre­pare for a debate like this when you’ve got a wild card like Trump in the mix, and how they handle him will be some­thing people will be watching.

On the impact of the first debate of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cycle:

First debates draw a lot of atten­tion, much of which is from the polit­ical media and Wash­ington press corps looking for a sto­ry­line. How­ever, that trickles down to every­body else because we read the inter­pre­ta­tions and news clips. First debates may not be impor­tant in terms of deter­mining the vote or final­izing who the can­di­date will be, but they’re an impor­tant marker for the press and also an impor­tant marker for the can­di­dates in terms of con­tin­uing to raise funds and sup­port. One way you can do that is through a debate performance.

On media spon­sor­ship of pres­i­den­tial debates:

There’s a big dif­fer­ence with spon­sor­ship of pri­mary pres­i­den­tial debates and gen­eral pres­i­den­tial debates. The pri­mary pres­i­den­tial debates are typ­i­cally spon­sored by cable news orga­ni­za­tions, while the Com­mis­sion on Pres­i­den­tial Debates spon­sors the gen­eral elec­tion debates. I don’t think that having net­works as spon­sors of pri­mary debates is ideal because they have their own agendas and they want to make good tele­vi­sion, draw big rat­ings, and show off their anchors. Those goals don’t always reflect what’s best for the public. Media spon­sor­ship has also put the media orga­ni­za­tions in the posi­tion of picking win­ners and losers. Fox News is approaching this first debate to select the 10 fron­trun­ners and rel­e­gating the others to the ear­lier forum. So now the media orga­ni­za­tion is helping to deter­mine who is being taken seri­ously, and I see this as a poten­tial con­flict of interest.

On tips for viewers tuning in:

The debate is a starting point. It’s an intro­duc­tion to the cast of char­ac­ters, but our respon­si­bility as voters doesn’t end there—it begins there. Listen to what the can­di­dates have to say, figure out what res­onates with you about two or three of the can­di­dates, and then do some follow-​​up on your own. Read their bios, go to their web­sites, and see what they’re saying on the issues. But don’t look at the debate as doing all the work for you. The debate is one mech­a­nism to learn about the process, but it’s a lim­ited mechanism.

In terms of watching the debate, look for the unex­pected moments. Can­di­dates are so chore­o­graphed in their day-​​to-​​day cam­paigning and every­thing is exten­sively planned. This is a time to see them in an unscripted set­ting, and that can be very revealing. It’s also inter­esting to see the inter­ac­tions between the can­di­dates. Cam­paigning is often done in iso­la­tion by meeting with people and giving speeches, but a debate offers the oppor­tu­nity for comparison-​​shopping and eval­u­ating who you like and who you don’t like.

Read the original story at news@Northeastern