WASHINGTON, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- A majority of voters said they expect Hillary Clinton will outperform Donald Trump in the presidential debates, the first of which is less than three weeks away, according to a poll.
The CNN/ORC poll asked respondents who they expected would walk away the winner from the first debate and 53 percent chose Clinton to 43 percent for Trump.
At first glance, the poll might appear to be good news for Clinton, but in presidential campaigns often higher expectations are more of a burden for candidates.
That's why campaigns perform a counterintuitive dance ahead of debates, regularly talking down their own candidate and heaping praise on their opponent. The goal is to lower the public's expectations for themselves and raise them for their opponent in order to make it seem in hindsight that a candidate did better than people predicted.
If a wide lead in pre-debate expectations is the measure of difficulty rather than success, Clinton is faring better than Barack Obama did leading up to the debates in both of his campaigns. In 2008 and 2012, more than 60 percent of voters in the poll predicted Obama would out-perform John McCain and Mitt Romney.
In recent presidential elections, Democrats have traditionally been favored to perform better than their Republican counterparts in the CNN/ORC poll. In the past six presidential elections, only once has the poll found voters predicting a Republican victory in the debates. That came in 2004, when the poll narrowly predicted Bush would perform better than John Kerry.
While debate "victories" are themselves often the source of vigorous debate between campaigns, there have been a few moments when a candidate's performance clearly helped or hurt their chances. Sometimes the moments that have captured the public's attention had little or nothing to do with the substance of a candidate's answer to a question on policy.
In 2000, Vice President Al Gore was widely viewed as condescending when he continually sighed and interrupted as then-Gov. George W. Bush answered questions. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush was captured by television cameras checking his watch during a town hall-style debate, while his opponent Bill Clinton used the forum to connect emotionally with voters' concerns as they asked questions about the economy.
The impact of a candidate's appearance and body language has been a factor in presidential debates for as long as they've been televised. In 1960, during the first ever televised debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, Nixon did not wear makeup and sweated profusely under the glare of the hot lights. By contrast, Kennedy, a naturally telegenic candidate, appeared cool and at ease while the more experienced Nixon looked pale, nervous and uncomfortable.
The CNN/ORC poll surveyed 1,001 adults from Sept. 1 to 4. It has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.