At recent elections, TV debates between the chancellor candidates of the two large parties CDU/CSU and SPD have become major events in the campaigns for national parliamentary elections. The project team therefore expects at least one such debate also to take place at the next elections. Attaining the research goals outlined above concerning TV debates requires a complex research design (component 5, directed by Sigrid Roßteutscher, in cooperation with a team of specialists comprising Frank Brettschneider, Thorsten Faas, Jürgen Maier and Michaela Maier).
Nationwide surveys are only of limited value when it comes to studying the processing of information by individual voters. An experimental approach seems much more promising in this respect, including a pre- and post-debate questionnaire in combination with real-time-response (RTR) measurement during the course of the debates.
Equipping participants with dials to allow them to express their evaluations during the debate, one can easily link viewers’ reactions to the actual progress of the debate, which can provide innovative insights about the processing of information. Obviously, this design needs to be complemented by a content analysis of the debate, a coding scheme which has already been developed in previous debate studies. In order to study the stability and persistence of debate effects, the amount, quality and directional content of the follow-up communication has to be covered. This implies surveying the participants a third time a few days after the debate and finally a fourth time right after Election Day to determine whether debates – directly or indirectly – ultimately affected their voting decision. Aside from this, the RCS and the short-term campaign panel, of course, also provide valuable insights about the existence and persistence of debate effects. Finally, the general content analysis of campaign communications plays an important role when it comes to linking the stability of debate effects to the content of media follow-up-coverage of the debates. Taken together, RTR measurement allows for the study of information processing while RCS, the short-term campaign panel, and the third and fourth round of interviewing the participants of the experiment allow for studying effects over the further course of the campaign. The content analysis of the debate, but also of the follow-up communication, allows for linking changes in attitudes to the processing of information.