Presidential Debate Tonight: Obama, Mitt Romney Prepare To Face Off

In the first presidential debate of the 2012 election season, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will go head-to-head at the University of Denver in Colorado on Wednesday night.

The focus of the event will be on domestic policy and it will be moderated by PBS NewsHour Executive Editor Jim Lehrer.

When it comes to the format of the showdown, the Commission on Presidential Debates explains:

The debate will focus on domestic policy and be divided into six time segments of approximately 15 minutes each on topics to be selected by the moderator and announced several weeks before the debate.

The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a discussion of the topic.

Here's a look at the latest general election polls from HuffPost Pollster. (Click here to check out our interactive election map.)

HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal reported earlier this week:

Can Wednesday night's nationally televised debates between Obama and Romney, the first of three to be held between now and late October, be a "game changer" for Romney? Not likely, according to George Washington University political scientist John Sides.

"When it comes to shifting enough votes to decide the outcome of the election," Sides writes in the Washington Monthly, "presidential debates have rarely, if ever, mattered."

Sides cites research by political scientists Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien, who studied polling from every election from 1952 to 2008 and found that while debates sometimes nudge results, they rarely produce substantial changes in voter preferences. Erikson and Wlezien found that since 1960, the leader in the polling before the debates remained the leader after the debates.

The most significant before-and-after debate shift was toward Gerald Ford in his 1976 race against Jimmy Carter. However, as Erikson and Wlezien note, "Carter's support was in steady decline" during the final month of the race.

Looking for a place to watch the debate tonight? HuffPost Live will stream the event and generate conversation hubs for political junkies, women voters, and young voters. The debate begins at 9:00 p.m. ET, check it out.

Painfully Awkard Debate Moments