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    The Commission on Presidential Debates on Friday cancelled the second scheduled debate in Florida between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, which most likely means that their next head-to-head, which was meant to be their third and last, will be at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee on 22 October.

    As the date for the 3 November presidential election in the US approaches, just one final debate is set to take place between the two contenders: at Belmont University in Nashville on 22 October.

    Their second meeting, set for 15 October, was cancelled by Presidential Debates on Friday.

    The commission had cited health advisers as recommending, after Trump tested positive for the coronavirus soon after the first debate, that the Miami event should be held virtually; however, the plan was rejected by the US president.

    What is the history of the debates? How long has the event, which shapes public opinion in the run up to the elections, existed in the form that we know it today?

    President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
    © AP Photo / Julio Cortez
    President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

     

    Origins of the Debates

    The US presidential debates evolved from a series of seven Illinois senatorial debates held between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858.

    Abraham Lincoln
    © Flickr / Olga
    Abraham Lincoln

    At the time, according to HowStuffWorks, Lincoln had been following Douglas on the campaign trail around the state, giving speeches in the same location a few days after his rival had.

    Finally, Douglas agreed to take the stage with Lincoln seven times, each time for a period of three hours, to debate the issue of slavery. Stephen Douglas won the seat.

    The lasting effects of those senatorial debates would become clear later, as Lincoln didn't debate during his successful campaign to become president two years later in 1860.

    In 1948 the presidential debate format got a boost of attention, after it was broadcast on radio. Participating were Republican primary contenders Thomas Dewey and Harold Stassen, who clashed on the issue of outlawing communism in the US, generating a listening audience of between 40 and 80 million.

    The debates failed to excite much interest, even the first televised one featuring all the potential candidates from both parties in 1952, hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV).

    ‘Groundbreaking Event’

    The first presidential debate televised between just the two nominated candidates took place in on 26 September 1960 between Republican Vice-President Richard Nixon and Democrat Senator John F Kennedy in the studios of a CBS affiliate in Chicago and was hailed as a groundbreaking event.

    Kennedy Nixon Debat (1960)
    © CC0
    Kennedy Nixon Debat (1960)

    Before 1960, there were presidential candidates who took part in debates, such as Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in the 19th century. Other candidates hit the campaign trail, putting in an appearance before the public at arranged events.

    The televised debate gave the population a close-up and more personal glimpse of the candidates than one could get when they were on the stump, sizing up not only what they said on certain issues, but how they looked, their voice, opinions and even body language.

    More than 66 million people watched that first televised debate in 1960, according to the commission and analysts say that it taught the candidates how a verbal sparring match between rivals could sway public opinion.

    Before it, Nixon had been in the lead. But just the day after Kennedy surged slightly ahead in the polls. Subsequent polling showed that more than half the voters said the televised series of four debates had shaped how they cast their ballots.

    Kennedy proceeded to win the presidential election on 8 November 1960.

    Nixon, who ran for the presidency again in 1968 and was elected, to become the 37th president of the United States, serving from 1969 until 1974, rejected presidential debates in his next campaign.

    Gerald Ford in 1976 is credited as having been the first sitting President to take part in a televised debate, with the contests becoming a fixture in 1980, according to Constitution Daily.

    At the time, GOP challenger Ronald Reagan gave a strong debate performance a week ahead of the election to win by a comfortable margin over Jimmy Carter on 4 November 1980.

    US President Ronald Reagan poses for photographers 24 June 1986 in the Oval Office at the White House, Washington,DC
    © AFP 2020 / MIKE SARGENT
    US President Ronald Reagan poses for photographers 24 June 1986 in the Oval Office at the White House, Washington,DC


    The American public had begun to expect debate between candidates, and the procedure became an American institution.

    Debate Format

    After 1988, the commission took over as the only organisation able legitimately to host presidential debates, which are meant to be non-partisan.

    The CPD typically schedules three or four debates, held after the nominating conventions, including at least one vice-presidential debate.

    A traditional feature of the debates is a fair division of time among the candidates for giving opening and closing statements about the issues and what the audience has heard during the debate.

    In between, the time can be divided in different ways, sometimes evenly split, granting candidates an allotted amount of time to respond to questions.

    Other formats allow for “rebuttals”, and in the rarest instance, candidates are allowed to cross-examine one another on a certain issue.

    There are several established formats for debates.

    Under the moderator format, a debate is hosted by one or two people, usually a TV journalist, who poses questions to the candidates and oversees response times. The candidates are placed at podiums across from each other or seated at the same table with a moderator in between.

    A “panelist format" presupposes that a single moderator is replaced with several people.
    In a “town hall meeting” format, which is thought to offer the most spontaneous atmosphere, members of the audience ask the participants questions.

    Thus, for 2020, each of the presidential debates was meant to last 90 minutes, featuring one moderator and a limited audience because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The debates are split into six 15-minute sections, each on a different topic.
    A candidate has to have a statistically realistic chance of being able to win a majority of the votes available in the Electoral College in order to qualify for a debate.

    The latter is based on the number of states with ballots on which the candidate's name appears, or in other words, the number of states a candidate could win simply by appearing on the ballot.

    The candidate must also enjoy at least 15 per cent support among the national electorate, according to five national public opinion surveying organisations, before the debates, according to the CPD.

    Debate Winner

    As for who wins in a debate, it is all about perception, as no such thing as a "right" answer. 
    The “perceptions” are comprised of opinions of the national news anchors, who proceed after the debate to analyse what was said by the candidates.

    A combination picture shows U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaking during the first 2020 presidential campaign debate, held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 29, 2020
    © REUTERS / Brian Snyder
    A combination picture shows U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaking during the first 2020 presidential campaign debate, held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 29, 2020

    Augmented further by media perception in the wake of a debate, together they are capable of swaying public opinion.

    Despite polling companies and media agencies calling registered voters to ask them what they thought of the debate immediately after, releasing the results of the polls hours later, how reliable a way this is to gauge sentiment can sometimes be a bit hit or miss.

     

    Related:

    ‘Looking Forward’: Trump Ready for 2nd Debate With Biden on 15 Oct After Contracting COVID-19
    Biden Says Second Debate With Trump Shouldn't Happen 'If He Still Has COVID'
    Trump Campaign Agrees to Postpone Remaining Presidential Debates With Joe Biden
    US Commission on Presidential Debates Cancels Oct. 15 Match-Up Between Trump, Biden
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    Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy Fenwick, Richard Nixon, debates, debate, debates, US Election 2020, Joe Biden, Donald Trump
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