With the debates between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney just days away, there's another debate of sorts surrounding these prime-time political squareoffs: Do they really change the minds of voters?
Conventional wisdom says they do, but like the election itself, there are two sides.
"There's a lot of drama in the buildup to the debates, but the kind of drama is more like a NASCAR race," said Jeff McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University. "People want to see if there's a car wreck or not. The odds are that the debates won't change anyone's mind. Most are already made up."
To the contrary, said Charles Dunn, professor of government at Regent University.
"I think they're very important and can change the momentum from one candidate to the other," Dunn said. "With the current race this close, they may be the most important event for the election."
What seems to be causing the split among experts is the reputation debates have for spotlighting a candidate's mistakes — or the smooth-as-silk comeback lines — and the impact they have on voters. (Read More:GOP Convention Fact Checking)
For example, the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 are well known for JFK's suntanned coolness, and Richard Nixon's haggard, sweaty appearance. Many jaws dropped in 1976, when President Gerald Ford, in his second debate with Jimmy Carter, made the comment that Eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination. Carter's debate in 1980 with Ronald Reagan became famous for Reagan's dismissive "There you go again," leaving Carter somewhat tongue tied.
Other moments include the 1988 debate with Michael Dukakis and President George H.W. Bush, which resulted in Dukakis being remembered more for his "cold" response to a question over the imagined rape and murder of his wife and the death penalty than anything he said about economic or foreign policy.
More recently, TV cameras caught President George H.W. Bush looking at his watch debating Bill Clinton in 1992 and Al Gore's exhausting sighs during his showdown with George W. Bush in 2000. (Read More:Did Bill Clinton Get His Facts Right?)
But reported research, most notably by political scientist James Stimson, as well as studies by other observers, point out that those "gotcha" moments had little impact.