Friday, October 19, 2012

Do Presidential Debates Matter?

   An item this week that caught my attention, and might catch yours . . . 

     The magazine The Week gave us some perspective on presidential debates, offering a brief history of past presidential matchups and wondering if they help decide elections.

     Most of us probably remember the first Presidential debates, which took place in 1960 between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communication, the first debate, on Sept. 26, drew a TV audience of some 70 million viewers. There were three more head-to-head debates in October, focusing on foreign policy issues covering two tiny islands off the coast of China -- remember Quemoy and Matsu? -- as well as Cuba, Castro and the Cold War.

     Everyone knows that Kennedy won the debates, on style points, and went on to eke out the election. He got 49.72% of the popular vote compared to Nixon's 49.55%, although he did better on the electoral side with 303 to 219.

     We've all now come to expect Presidential candidates to debate each other. But did you know that there wasn't another Presidential debate for 16 years after the Kennedy-Nixon contest? Not until 1976 when Jimmy Carter challenged Gerald Ford -- and Ford famously flummoxed, saying there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe at a time when dozens of Soviet divisions were based there.

     So do Presidential debates make a difference? They did in 1960 and 1976, but experts say they usually are not decisive. A 2008 Gallup study concluded that a good performance typically gives a candidate a temporary boost, but nothing more.

     This year, some 67 million people watched the first debate between Romney and Obama, which Romney won handily -- that's more viewers than any debate since the Carter-Reagan matchup in 1980. The second debate, when Obama made a comeback, drew slightly less, about 65 million viewers. Now there's one more, on Monday night.

     Do the debates matter? You be the judge.


Olga said...

Are there really that many people of voting age and eligibility who are still undecided? I mean I shudder at what will have to come up as the deciding factor at this point.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I think that there are many immigrants who are not really into being a part of that whole thing. I think that is an area that's been over looked. There are many who watch cultural channels and don't really pay attention to what's happening. And those same folks all hang out within their cultural fellows because it feels safer than to mix and join in.

Stephen Hayes said...

These debates are pure theater. There's little substance to them and I would hope voters wouldn't base their decision on them.

schmidleysscribblins, said...

Gosh if Nixon-Kennedy was the first one and I know it was, I have seen every single debate since, including the primary debates. Dianne

Douglas said...

Debates are important to the supporters of the define "winner" and unimportant to the supporters of the defined "loser." Much like polls. When your guy (generic candidate, I know there are women candidates out there too) is ahead in them, they are great; when he is behind, they are questionable.
I was thinking just the other day that I do not know anyone who is undecided.

Janette said...

I have seen every televised debate... and have stood where Lincoln once debated Douglas ---for 16 hours!

I think debate is lost in this society. It is no longer about fishing out the information---but seen as attacking your opponent. Sad.
I don't think they change anyone's mind. I do think if you are undecided at this point, you won't decide until you walk into that booth---or you probably will not vote at all.