History of Presidential Debates
We’ve been having plenty of discussion on presidential debates, but we haven’t really discussed the history of presidential debates, outside of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
On September 26, 1960 the first general presidential debate was held between candidates Richard Nixon, and John F. Kennedy. This debate was also the first televised debate, previously debates had been broadcast over the radio, or were printed in major newspapers. Those who listened to the debate on radio believed Nixon to be the winner, however, those who watched the debate on television viewed JFK as the victor of the debate. On screen JFK appeared relaxed, comfortable, and generally in his element. Nixon on the other hand, had been hospitalized earlier in September and appeared sick and exhausted on-screen.
A connection can be drawn between Nixon’s unpreparedness for the medium of television and the refusal of candidates today to utilize Youtube. Gradually more and more presidential candidates are beginning to see the advantage of using youtube to reach out to a younger generation but the certainly took their own sweet time, and as James Kotecki has shown, the majority of the candidates do not use youtube to the best of their advantage.
Although the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate was the first official presidential debate, there are several other debates which served as forerunners to our current conception of today’s presidential debates. The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 are a prime example. Although no television or radio existed at the time to broadcast the debates, newspapers printed the debates, and many people took a serious interest in the debates.
Following the presidential debates of there were no debates held for 1964, 1968, and 1972. The election of 1976 saw televised presidential debates between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Since 1976 every presidential election has had at least one presidential debate, the majority of elections have had more than one debate.
A problem now rises from reading this history. Although we believe that there has been a long history of presidential debate, these debates have only been around since 1960 elections. There are other debates which do set some precedent as the Lincoln-Douglas debate did, but in reality there is little for us to compare today’s presidential debates to.