26th September 2021

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US Presidential Debates

Late Friday night, the second presidential nomination scheduled for October 15 between United States President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was officially canceled because Trump refused to participate in a debate virtually

  • Given Trump’s illness and the uncertainty over his health, the Committee on Presidential Debates (CPD) had attempted to shift the debate to a distant format, but the president flatly rejected the proposal and instead planned to resume. his signature rallies, starting Monday in Florida.

Have presidential debates ever taken place remotely?

The first nationally televised presidential debate took place in 1960, between John F. Kennedy and the current Richard Nixon. On October 13, 1960, the third presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon would be the first and only time that the presidential candidates did not share the same platform.

  • The debate was moderated by Bill Shadel of ABC News and featured a split screen show with panelists at the ABC studio in Los Angeles and Kennedy at the ABC studio in New York City. This debate has been watched by over 63.7 million people.

“In New York, Democratic presidential candidate Senator John F. Kennedy; Three thousand miles away, in a Los Angeles study, Republican presidential candidate Vice President Richard M. Nixon; now joining the discussion tonight through a network of electronic equipment that allows each candidate to see and hear the other, ”

Shadel opened the debate that day.
  • But even before the Kennedy-Nixon debate, the first televised debate took place between Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson, who challenged current Republican Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.
  • Interestingly, Stevenson and Eisenhower didn’t even appear in this debate, but rather two alternates debated the candidates’ issues on the TV network, according to the US Senate website.
  • Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt debated for Stevenson and Senior Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith represented Eisenhower. This debate took place on the CBS program “Face the Nation” and took place two days before the general election and, “centered almost entirely on questions of foreign policy”.

National debates and what the candidates debated

  • The first Trump-Biden debate was criticized by many for not having sufficiently delved into the relevant issues and political questions. The CNN editor called the debate “horrible” in his analysis, adding that it was ” an absolutely terrible debate that did absolutely nothing to educate the public about the two candidates and what they would do, if they were given four years to serve as President. ” the United States.”
  • National debates have been held for all presidential elections since 1976 and have been sponsored by the CPD since 1988. Prior to 1976, debates were held for four elections, including the Illinois Senate debates held in 1858 with Abraham Lincoln while making anti-slavery arguments while debating Stephen Douglas. Below is a list of some of the national debates that have taken place since then and what participants discussed.
  • 1948: The next record for a debate with the CPD comes after 90 years in 1948, which was the Oregon Republican presidential primary debate held between Thomas Dewey and Harold Stassen on May 17, 1948 on KEX-ABC radio station in Portland, Oregon. The debate brought together around 40 to 80 million people and lasted for an hour. The main topics of discussion were the ban on the Communist Party in the United States. According to CPD, this debate was the “first and last” presidential debate limited to a single topic.
  • 1956: The Florida Democratic presidential primary debate takes place on May 21, 1956 in Miami, Florida, between Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver. It lasted an hour and the topics of discussion focused on foreign and domestic policy.
  • 1960: These elections saw four presidential debates and no vice-presidential debates. The first presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon was watched by over 66 million people and focused on internal issues. It was held in Chicago, Illinois and lasted for an hour.
  • 1976: These elections saw three presidential debates and featured the first official vice-presidential debate held between Democrat Walter Mondale and Republican Bob Dole. The topic of discussions for the presidential debates included foreign affairs, defense and home affairs.
  • 1980: Two presidential and no vice-presidential elections were held. The second presidential debate of this year held between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan had a viewership of about 80.6 million, one of the highest, and the topics of discussion included domestic and economic issues, foreign policy and national security.
  • 1992: There were three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate. All three presidential debates were held between three candidates, Democrat Bill Clinton, Republican incumbent George Bush and Independent candidate Ross Perot.
  • 2012: These elections saw three presidential and one vice-presidential debate. The presidential debates were held between incumbent Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The vice presidential debate was held between Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan.
  • 2016: The first presidential debate between Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton lasted for 90 minutes and saw one of the highest viewerships at over 84 million.

How influential are these debates for voters?

  • As per the Pew Research Center, presidential and vice-presidential debates have long played a significant role in the way Americans choose their leaders. During these debates, voters get to listen to the candidates and gauge what their priorities could be once they assume office.
  • According to post-election surveys conducted by the center since 1988, in most cases, three-fifths or more of the voters said that the debates were “very or somewhat helpful” in deciding which candidate to vote for. As per this survey, about 70 percent of the voters said that the presidential debates between Clinton, Bush and Perot in 1992 were “at least somewhat helpful”.
  • “However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that large numbers of voters are waiting for the debates to make up their minds,” the center says. For instance, in the 2016 debates between Clinton and Trump, only 10 percent of the voters said that “they had definitively made up their minds “during or just after” the presidential debates.”
  • Critics of these debates such as Michelle Cottle of The New York Times have said that over time these debates “have degenerated into media spectacles, showcasing much that is wrong with both electoral politics and journalism” and therefore offer less substance and more “cheap zingers”.
  • Significantly, as per data provided by Nielsen Media Research, the viewership of these debates has gone down from 60 percent in 1960 to 38 percent in 2012. A report published by the Annenberg Debate Reform Working Group in 2015 called for more work to be done on enriching the contents of these debates, enlarging their audiences and improving accessibility. The report also noted that the debates have become an “extravaganza”.
  • Vice-presidential debates on the other hand are not considered as significant and have typically attracted lesser viewership than the presidential ones. Pew notes one exception to this, however. The 2008 vice-presidential debate between Biden and Sarah Palin was watched by over 69 million people, which is more than any of the three presidential debates during that year.
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