​​​On Sunday, October 9, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face off again in the second of three presidential debates. This one will take the form of a town meeting at which citizens will pose at least half of the questions directly to the nominees.

Marcela García-Castañon, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science at San Francisco State; Matthew G. Jarvis, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at CSU Fullerton; and Nadine Koch, Ph.D., professor of political science at Cal State Los Angeles, share their thoughts on what to expect and what the candidates need to do to win voters over.


Q:
How would you rate Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton's performance in the first presidential debate, held on September 26?

Dr. Marcela García-Castañon
: "Clinton's performance at the first presidential debate illustrated what a prepared and serious candidate looks like in this election. Trump's started off as a toned-down and more serious candidate, but by the end of the debate, his loud interruptions and inarticulate responses to the questions showed his utter lack of preparation and put into question his fitness as a candidate."

Dr. Matthew Jarvis:
"At the debate, Clinton successfully baited [Trump], multiple times. He interrupted her 71 times by one count, he actively denied factual statements about his own past statements, and he got flustered and lashed out… Trump simply played up his biggest personality flaws."

Dr. Nadine Koch:
"Clinton appeared knowledgeable, confident, and it was apparent her studious preparations paid off. Trump, initially, came off as more passionate about issues such as the economy and trade but then was easily rattled by some of Clinton's comments and retorts. It was apparent that he had not prepared well for this debate."

Q: Do you think the town hall format of the second presidential debate will play to the strengths of either or both candidates? Do you think it might hinder one or both?

Dr. García-Castañon
: "The town hall format will provide Trump an edge by giving him an opportunity to tap into the audience's energy and reactions, but it also provides more opportunities for him to appear inarticulate or out of touch… Clinton does more small-scale events while campaigning, similar to a town hall forum, thus playing to her strength. However, her public persona is often seen as stiff and aloof, and she will have to fight this perception in the more informal setting where being personable is key."

Dr. Jarvis:
"I think the town hall format could be even worse for Trump… Trump's very noticeable tendency to try to grab the spotlight at all times could play really terribly in such a venue. Clinton might be addressing a question, and slip in a jab at Trump. Given his history, it's hard to imagine Trump sitting there on a stool taking it."

Dr. Koch:
"Those watching at home will be looking to see how the candidates connect to ordinary people who will be asking questions and voicing concerns that will resonate with many of the viewers. Trump's advantage is that he is more comfortable than Clinton in this type of situation where he can connect with the audience… Clinton has a more difficult time connecting with people and showing her emotional side… The danger for Clinton is if she comes off as a cold policy wonk and is unable to show her warm, empathic side. Clinton, though, does have a distinct advantage over Trump: She has been in numerous town hall settings and is familiar with this format and its demands for audience connection, careful staging and the like… Also, one key unknown is how Trump will respond to questions he doesn't like."

Q: What, in your opinion, do each of the candidates need to do to be successful in this second debate?

Dr. García-Castañon
: "Trump needs to demonstrate an ability to articulate policy positions without coming off as aggressive or contradicting himself in the process. Clinton needs to present a more personable side without seeming too packaged."

Dr. Jarvis:
"It's likely too late, but Trump needs to show voters that he's capable of being president. Loudly boasting about his temperament won't do that. He needs to tone it down and try to keep the focus either on Clinton or on trade… Clinton needs to needle Trump. Clinton wins handily if this election is a referendum on Trump. She needs to make the focus be on Trump 100%."

Dr. Koch:
"Clinton needs to connect on a very human level with the audience. She must exhibit empathy. Trump needs to study the issues and become more conversant on the important policy initiatives he supports. He also needs to not take the bait and behave more presidential."

Q: Is there anything you'd suggest viewers look for in watching the second debate? So much of the rhetoric between Clinton and Trump is diametrically opposed; it can be hard for viewers and voters to know what to believe. Should we rely instead on the fact-checkers that are figuring so prominently in this election season?

Dr. García-Castañon
: "I'd caution viewers to do their homework and be willing to evaluate a candidate's statements honestly. Often, the narrative of the debates—who won, who lost, who exceeded or fell short of expectations—reduces the impact of what candidates actually said or how voters interpret them. Fact-checking is important, and with candidates who obscure, deny, or misrepresent facts, it can be difficult for viewers to know who is actually 'telling the truth' without doing some of their own homework."

Dr. Jarvis:
"One could rely on fact-checkers. Those fact-checkers have found Trump to lie most of the time that they check his claims. That people are, apparently, going to vote for Trump regardless tells me that fact-checkers aren't being relied on as anything other than fodder in an argument that people have already taken a side on. I would suggest viewers try to listen for concrete policy proposals and evaluate them for themselves."

Dr. Koch:
"It is important to not only watch their actions but to also listen carefully to their words. With regard to fact-checkers, I think they are invaluable. Pulitzer prize-winning Politifact.com is one of my favorite fact-checking websites. However, a sizeable segment of the electorate doesn't seem to be concerned with the facts, which diminishes the importance of fact-checkers."

Q: Is there anything else you'd want to add for those watching the presidential debates as they decide who to vote for on November 8?

Dr. García-Castañon
: "Don't forget to register to vote and to vote on Election Day! It matters that every eligible voter cast their ballot, for the health of the democracy and the cultivation of a strong civic citizenry."

Dr. Jarvis:
"Voters watching the debates should glean what they can about [each] candidate's traits that would inform them about how well they would perform those tasks. If a voter is truly undecided, I would invite them to ask themselves why they are undecided. Are the things they believe about the candidates true or just caricatures? If they don't know, do some research to find out."

Dr. Koch:
"Use fact-checkers!" ​​