How Significant Are Presidential TV Debates In A Presidential Election Essay

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How Significant are Presidential TV Debates in a Presidential Election?

Televised debates have become an important aspect of every presidential election. The first general election presidential debate was held on September 26, 1960, between Democratic nominee U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee. There are, however, suggestions that actually these TV debates hold absolutely no significance in terms of changing the outcome for the candidates. This cannot be said to be completely true though because there is substantial evidence to suggest that TV debates do change the overall outcome and affect the viewers, but it could be true to say that the media have an effect on what the voters vote and also how close the two candidates are running throughout the whole campaign.

Presidential debates offer the candidates a national platform and it also shows, to the voters, how the candidates deal with pressure and tough situations. One of the most famous TV debates was between Kennedy and Nixon, where it was astoundingly obvious to the viewers that Nixon was not well and healthy. Nixon had a pale complexion, unlike Kennedy’s Bronzed face, and fast-growing stubble as well as sweating under the hot studio lights, which in turn made the powder melt off his face, giving way to visible beads of perspiration. It didn’t help that Nixon had chosen a light grey suit for the occasion, which faded into the backdrop of the set and seemed to match his skin tone. Reacting to the vice president’s on-air appearance, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley reportedly said, “My God, they’ve embalmed him before he even died.” The following day, the Chicago Daily News ran the headline “Was Nixon Sabotaged by TV Makeup Artists?” Kennedy, on the other hand, had truly nailed it; he looked as if he had a natural glow and looked alert, which combined with the fact that he was making direct eye contact with the camera, clearly boosted his chance of winning the presidency. A month and a half after the TV debate, Americans turned out to vote in record numbers. As predicted, it was a close election, with Kennedy winning the popular vote 49.7 percent to 49.5 percent. Polls revealed that more than half of all voters had been influenced by the Great Debates, while 6 percent claimed that the debates alone had decided their choice. Whether or not the debates cost Nixon the presidency, they were a major turning point in the 1960 race.

Nevertheless, it can be argued that, rather than encouraging viewers to change their vote, the debates actually just solidified prior allegiances. Therefore many would argue that Kennedy would have won the election with or without the Great Debates. This can be supported with the recent 2012 Presidential election, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in a TV debate, but Romney came out on top in the debate for a number of reasons, one being that he knew he was going to be attacked for raising taxes on the middle class and favouring the wealthy, so he repeated over and over again that he would not raise taxes on the middle class and suggested it was Obama who would raise their taxes. On the day of their first face-off, October 3rd 2012, Obama had a 49 percent to 46 percent edge over Romney. Five days later, Obama’s lead had evaporated. Two weeks after the debate, Romney led by 4 points in the polls. So, even though Romney clearly won the debates that were televised, it made little difference to the overall outcome of the election and this is, arguably, down to various reasons; maybe the fact that, in October, 45 percent of voters thought the economy would improve from 2012- 2013, which was 18 points higher than in July and only 9 percent thought the economy would worsen. This suggests that the majority of voters were happy with Obama being re-elected as long as he changed some of his polices, which many thought he would do when voting in 2012, therefore concluding that these debates had a small