Since the first televised debate between Vice President Richard Nixon (R-Calif.) and Senator John Kennedy (D-Mass.), the election process has never been the same. Despite the seemingly important democratic aspect of presidential debates, the actual impact of debates on voters’ perceptions of potential candidates is highly doubted by many scholars. Potential candidates, journalists, and a few scholars have expressed, however, the importance of presidential debates in directing voters’ attitudes (White, 1982; Asher, 1988; Reagan, 1990). For instance, President Reagan was quoted as saying “I almost blew the whole race during my first debate” (Reagan, 1990, p. 327). He believed so strongly that his poor performance against Mondale in the 1984 debate almost caused him to lose the presidency.
The purpose of this paper will be to refute claims made by doubtful scholars as to the importance of presidential debates. Throughout this paper, studies will be presented which directly refute the idea that debates do not have a substantial effect on voter perception. It will also explore the evolution of the selection process and how that has directly affected the importance of debates. In addition, it will provide evidence of the importance of presidential debates by evaluating multiple theories (Neustadt, Light, and Presidential Roles Theory) of presidential success and show how debates can be central in the foundation of their future achievements as president. This analysis will also explore the sinister aspects of debates in which the media uses sound bites to direct voter perceptions and use miscomprehension among voters to distort their views about potential candidates.
Shift in Focus: Party to Candidate Issues
In recent ...
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Neustadt, Richard E. (1990). Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan (Rev. ed.). New York: The Free Press.
Pika, Joseph A. & Maltese, John Anthony (2009). The Election Process. In Abraham Goldberg, The American Presidency (pp. 95-151). Congressional Quarterly Press.
Reagan, Ronald. (1990). An American Life. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Wattenberg, Mark P. (2004). "Elections": Personal Popularity in U.S. Presidential Elections. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 34 (1), pp. 143-155.
White, Theodore H. (1982). America in Search of Itself. New York: Warner.
Yawn, Mike, Ellsworth, Kevin, Beatly, Bob, & Kahn, Kim Fridkin. (1998). How a Presidential
Primary Debate Changed Attitudes of Audience Members. Political Behavior, 20 (2), pp. 155-181.
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