Political Debates in American Presidential Campaigns

Under what specific conditions have televised debates been decisive in determining election outcomes in recent American presidential campaigns?


American political debates have always elicited different outcomes in the political system of United States. The outcomes are often both positive and negative depending on the participation of the candidates. Moreover, the debates are televised, and candidates are allowed to present their manifestos; they are allowed to tell the citizens what they are planning to do for them if they are given the posts they are aspiring. They state clearly what their intentions are and promise the people to fulfill their intentions for the latter. American political debates are often televised, and it is a must for all the candidates to participate them because this is the only way the citizens may become aware of them in terms of what the politicians intend to serve the people.

In most cases, the debates rotate around the issues that do affect the US citizens which need to be addressed. The debates clarify political, social, and economic conditions of the country, and each candidate proposes possible solutions that his/her government will implement. This analysis is also interesting in making the potential factors clear, that would have caused such big impact after the debate. According to Cannon, the author believed that these issues also affect the nation in terms of its productivity and general development. In this sense, the paper is projected towards making analysis of these events where televised presidential debates were able to create a big turnaround in the outcomes of the presidential elections. Therefore, this essay focuses on the specific conditions under which the debates have been decisive in determining election outcomes in recent presidential campaign in the United States of America.


Since its invention, television has grown to become a very important issue in people`s lives. One of this can be demonstrated by access of both audio and visual news, which ever since have been broadcasted various views at the comfort of the living rooms live to air. Nevertheless, it has remained an important source of entertainment as well as education to people who have the possibility to afford it. In this way, different moral practices have been promoted and passed through the gadget. Away from this, television has not seized upon impacting the political arena in a given way. This can be contemplated in terms of campaigns and election pieces of advice as well as preaching peace in the electioneering seasons. The same case has been evident in periods when elections were about to be held in the United States. Presidential debates have emerged as a game changer in most cases because they were televised in order to reach as many viewers as possible; hence, it had greater impact on the outcomes of the elections.

Based on the outcome of each debate, a lot of studies have been done on specific conditions under which presidential debates have had effects on the results of the general elections. However, some people argue that television debates do not have an impact on the polls. To some extent, the debates may affect the polls and influence the outcomes of general elections. Some people argue that debates are important because they are considered as eye openers in specific situations. In the past, during general elections in the United States, especially the 2008 and 2012 elections, many results have shown that individual preferences that the voters have had were basically reinforced form the debates. This is especially true for a person who was undecisive towards another person not strongly supporting specific candidate during that specific time. The effect of this is that the debates have a considerable effect on the outcomes of general elections,especially during the elections in the United States where the candidates take the issues in the debates seriously. An example is the 1992 general elections where the former president George Bush took a glance at his watch during the debates. The conclusion made from that debate is that he was very impatient person. Such actions could determine appropriate justifications where televised debates have had an effect on the outcomes of the general elections.

One of the conditions is economic issues. The televised presidential debates are important in situations where the debates help in the understanding of current economic issues affecting the country and possible solutions that each candidate would implement. The way the candidates talk about current issues in a general election is important in determining who they will respond to with such issues. Generally, people desire situational leaders who can deal with different economic situations appropriately. The debate gives the opportunity to explore these leadership styles that each leader would adopt. In addition, a voter might not have watched the debates, but eventually he or she might get the report of the debate from other sources. In this case, the analysis given is important as it can easily shift the perspective that any candidate had towards specific candidate. Thus, he or she is given the opportunity to understand really what kind of a leader he or she is in the verge of electing.

Televised presidential debates are also important in situations where the voters want to know more about candidates because some voters may not be fully informed about all the candidates in advance. Some people will wait for the debate to happen in determining their right candidates as they will get an opportunity to know more about them. The voters also get informed about the clarity of some issues in relation to the candidates’ policies. Sometimes the candidates may have the same political philosophies or the same political ideologies. The difference comes in confidence, and the eagerness that the candidates have when compared to other ones is vivid. Understanding these differences is important in helping a voter get clarity and remove doubts and/or even confusion.

According to Oatley, the author states that the voters also get the chance to learn about the policies that candidates have in debates, and they get the opportunity to analyze those policies in order to see which candidate has the best political views. Therefore, evidently in such a situation, televised political debates are very important as they are considered as an eye opener. They favor the candidates who clearly understand the policies that they have and how the latter affect general public. As a result, this may have an effect upon the elections. For example, in the case of the 2012 general elections between current President Barrack Obama and his opponent, the former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, it was clear from the polls that the President went ahead of the polls because people came to clearly understand the policies that he had. They understood his ideologies, and it did not have a great impact even though, but it did change some aspects in the election results.

Televised presidential debate is important in a situation where a candidate wants to build his rapport because the debate gives the candidate an opportunity to attract attention to him/herself of those who might have otherwise overlooked them. The candidates are able to develop the way people view them. For example, people become to know what a candidate is all about. As a result, they are in better position to select the candidates. Magically, some candidates will go up the polls because of the fact that the debate opened paths for them. A candidate gets uplifted because of the debates. For example, in the 2008 presidential elections in the United States, the current President of the United States Barrack Obama was not very popular, but his popularity started rising from the first debate. He kept on rising and the voters came to respect him because his policies were mainly people-centered. In this case, most people who overlooked him changed the notion they had about him.

In addition, televised presidential debates have an effect in the general elections, especially in a situation where the voters want to know more before selecting the candidate of what s/he has to offer. This implies that the debates act as an eye opener. As a matter of fact, many Americans rely on the political debates to form a conclusive understanding about the candidate. In this case, from the opinion that the voters get, they place themselves in a better position of determining the candidates they will chose. This means that the decisions that the voters make will be reflected in general elections. This implies that without the debates, the voters will not know nothing more about the person they will be electing. The fact is important in the situation where there is a large group of voters who just vote because they decided upon the candidate in terms of the place that the candidate comes from, the race of the candidate, and the religion among others.

The presidential debates are also important for presidential elections, especially in a situation where the presidential candidate has not met most of his/her supporters. In this case, the presidential candidate is in a better position for interacting with his/her supporters in a platform where they all engage in conclusive discussions. In addition, the televised presidential debates are important because they give the candidate an opportunity to show the willingness and the ability to get involved with the voters. By just accepting to attend the debates, the voters understand that the candidates are much willing to associate with them in any sector. The voters get the chance to analyze the intelligence of the candidates and how they will handle things while being in the office. Moreover, for a good decision to be made in general elections, presidential debate will be important in a situation where a voter has not made a final decision concerning particular candidate. Therefore, the candidates are in better positions of ensuring that they fully convince those voters who are undecisive about whom they want to vote for.

Other condition under which presidential debates influence the outcome of election is when there is the conflict between the country and another state. Such concerns arising in televised presidential debates are important especially in the determination of the outcomes of general elections. For instance, the leader being best placed to stop the conflict would be elected. In the United States, this has been very evident because since the debates were introduced, a lot of focus has been on the presidential candidate who provides more convincing information during the debate. This implies that there is a direct connection between the televised presidential debates and the results of election.

People tend to vote for those candidates who suit their needs best in terms of giving the opportunity to that candidate who they feel will be able to address their needs in a situation of conflict if they give him or her a chance to serve them. The needs of the citizens are often the major determinants of who will be the next president. If a person is highly preferred by the people because of what he or she plans to do for them or achieve in the long run, then the one will be given chance. If the needs of the people are race- or conflict-related, then the person who will seem to address these issues would be given the opportunity to serve the voters. People became assured of their needs being catered for if they elect the person whose interests are to serve the people in a good spirit without violating their rights.

Ideally, candidate who will have the best qualities in terms of people’s needs would automatically win the elections. Peoples’ preferences with regard to candidates determine who wins and loses. However, this was not always or has not always been the case when the one who is most preferred must win the elections. Race preferences often facilitated the winning of the elections, but it reached at time when this had to shift because of the needs that had risen up and the needs to be addressed by the presidents. In this case, therefore, for one to win elections, he or she must have mentioned the need to address people’s desires. The one was to be keen enough to concentrate only on the issues desired to be addressed to if he or she is granted that chance of serving the nation. This could only be expressed through the debates which are often televised. The opposite of such expectations is the fact that the candidate who is expected to win fails in the elections mainly because of what his or her speech lacked during the debates. The debates are very important as they enable all the people to get access to information that will help them in decision-making processes. People get to know about the best and right candidates they should entrust to their rights. They become aware of the intentions of the people who are aspiring to serve them. In its turn, it facilitates good leadership that is often a good component of national development. Thus, the right candidates are elected.

There are certain situations when televised political debated have determined possible political outcomes in terms of the elections in the US. The outcomes are in the form of electing those officials whose debates attract attention of the people; therefore, people feel motivated to work. Sometimes the aspirant may be the majority leader like in the case of race preferences. However, the one may fail in the elections as a result of many reasons that may not be of interest for the citizens. In most cases, the major causes of this have been the changes in the tastes and preferences of the citizens. In situations when citizens realize that the race and conflict issues are hindering them from achieving national development goals by creating boundaries in the society, they ought to prevent this even though the majority leader fails in the elections. When people are sensitized as a result of understanding the information disseminated in the debates, they tend and they completely shift their attention and elect the right person that will address what is expected of the people in most cases.

Sensitization may not be easy, but it is very essential in determining the behavior of citizens. For instance, during the 2008 elections, people’s preferences had shifted. Therefore, there was a new need for addressing them. People no longer preferred racial leaders as they had realized what all of them implied to their economic growth. Economic growth of the nation had drastically decreased. There was high level of unemployment rates, and the economy has considerably declined. People were living in poor conditions whereby they were not able to get the best essential services like health, education, good income in order to enable them meet their basic needs in time. People were living very miserable lives in the nation; therefore, there was a need for change of leadership. People needed to elect someone who could help work on their need as well as on the current situation at hand.

Racial leaders were not supporting this idea. They had completely ignored other aspects of development like economic growth. This fact had adverse impacts on the national development. Racial leaders ought to offer a lot of inequality for the nation in the sense that they promoted status quo, and poor people remained poor whereas the rich ones became richer every day. They supported more the rights of the rich than the poor, and the gap between the rich and the poor was very great. Concerning this aspect, at the presidential debates, the current US President Barrack Obama was a democratic leader; he wanted to work on the needs of the people. He was a majority leader, and this meant that he had to concentrate by addressing the needs of the middle class in America. These are the majority of the people who are the main consumers of services in the economy. He knew that if he concentrated on the rich people only, then he would not have solved the problems of the majority of population. He needed to address the issues that were affecting most of the people in the US. His main intentions were to improve the economy of the nation. He wanted to bring America out of the economic depression that other republican leaders had put the nation into. His winning was to ensure that the people are enjoying good standards of living by getting employment opportunities that would allow them to access the best high-quality services like education and healthcare, and that the people are well protected from all forms of discrimination based on race or other factors like the status of a person (i.e. being rich or poor).

From the debates, it was clear that Obama wanted to bridge the huge gap that had been created by the racial leaders in the nation especially between the poor and the rich.The issues of racism were also taken into consideration. Even though the race preferences are major in US, the people were able to support Obama despite the fact that he belongs to a minor race. They had recognized positive impacts he would bring to America so they decided to give him all their support. This was successful after they heard his speeches during the televised presidential debates. People wanted someone who would bring America to the nation everyone would wish to live within. Obama introduced Obamacare, the healthcare strategy that is cheaper and readily available in USA for both poor and rich citizens. This system has worked the best for most people in America due to the fact that even the poor ones are able to get access to medical services. The essential quality is high, and the prices are very low so that the majority of people could access services without any problem. This was not the case with most of the Republican leaders who tend to oppose the democrats; they only support those people at the upper class and fail to incorporate the rights of the lower and middle class in their decisions.

On the other hand, in 1996 and 2004, the races were too competitive. Therefore, it was not that easy to determine who to become president even during the debates. Both candidates seemed to have similar interests, and the citizens were to look at both their weaknesses and strengths in order to determine who should become president. Whoever they found with much strengths and few weaknesses became their leader as they assumed that the president will work to ensure that the needs of the people are well catered for. There are several presidential debates that have been conducted in the United States; some of them are discussed below.

Kennedy-Nixon Debate

A look at the 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon had their debates first televised, reveals great impact on the outcome of the elections held at the time. Analysis of the records reveals that despite the fact that these two contestants equalled in their first round of the first televised debate, the impact upon the decision that the Americans made was so great that it came to the polling day. In the first consideration, the airing of the debate is thought to help portray these figures in the public so that Americans could effectively identify who their leaders were. This made an important impact on how people made their decisions about whom to elect and whom not to elect. Their decision making was based on their ability of the candidates to handle various issues in front of all the Americans during the debate.

Even though the first debate sounded so unique, it shaped political landscape of the country. This can be seen in the context of the 1960`s election with the United States of America being under several challenges ranging from cold war with the Soviet Union to rising of Fidel Castro`s revolutionary regime. The election was faced by two contestants. The first one, Kennedy. had little experience with legal office and was the first Catholic to contest a major party`s ticket. He was being faced by Nixon who had spent substantial time in power as the vice president and was well acquainted with how the things work. In this case, there were limited expectations on Kennedy`s ability and capacity to win the elections.

It is evident that after the debate, things were turned around because of the reality that was made evident to Americans who could not access the details. This actually contributed enormously to Kennedy`s ability to win the elections even despite the fact that his opponent was ranked first in the opinion polls few months before the election.

Dukakis-Bush Debate

This is another case where televising the presidential debates in the United States of America presented a case of game changer. In this debate, George H. W. Bush was asked one question by one of the moderators. However, everyone noticed the manner in which he answered this question on what he would do if his opponent would be raped and murdered. This made it vivid that he did not approach the issue with emotional consideration. In this case, the analysis reveals that this earned him great reputation against his opponent among the voters because Bush demonstrated the ability to handle things rather not from emotional perspective but rational viewpoint. As a result of this, his popularity among the voters increased hence his capacity to win the election after the polls.

This incident made it possible to influence the attitude of the presidential contestants and determine the fit candidate for the presidential seat. It thereafter emerged that the polls report on Bush`s position increased further as the one of his opponent was slumping even lower. This was based on the analysis evidenced and has been facilitated by the fact that the debate was viewed by many people interested in many evaluations in order to determine who was the right person to lead the great nation to another level of advancement as well as prosperity.

Reagan-Carter Debate

While looking at the 1980`s presidential debate, another considerable impact of televised debates can be seen. In this case, it is clear that there were more information available to the public after the debate, and that compelled some actions to be taken. It is also evident that after this debate, Americans were to reconsider their thoughts on who to settle for. This resulted in a great change as the majority of the population sided with Reagan who previously had limited support because of his capacity to establish the exact uncertainties that the American citizens were facing. This was coupled by his ability to project realistic solutions for them and the way of ensuring that this was achieved for the sake of every American to be assured of better life.

In this case, the large victory that Reagan had illustrated was based on the fact that he had a better change of trends to his side which made some issues seemed impossible to emerge possible. Thus, a steady stream of information was made available to voters. This formed a great basis for their capacity to make decisions and see who could serve them better along with all the possible ways of doing it. This is quite unlikely with the events where there were no debates being held. Consequently, the electorates made their advances on voting with limited or sometimes with no information at all.

Obama-McCain Debate

The last consideration is the most recent analysis of the effect of televised presidential debates. As proposed later, it is clear that televised debates still play substantial role in determining the outcomes of any presidential election. This is based on the reasoning that during these debates, competing ideas of the candidates could be clearly made evident to citizens who are, in their analytical way, ready to establish the most appropriate candidate. In this case, it becomes easy for the voters to have a shift of ideology in terms of their candidates based on the ideas that the latter present during the debate. Actually, it is held that this also played an important part in giving Obama a better chance to turn the tables during the elections. This enhanced the landslide outcomes of the polls which many did not actually believe as being possible. In this sense, it is clear that the way the candidates present themselves during these debates has a greater impact on decision the public makes about them and their leadership capacities.

Nevertheless, there are some critics who do not contend with the notion that these debates have substantial effect on influencing the election outcome because there are some instances where the candidates have presented negative attitudes towards themselves, yet they still emerged winners. For example, it was in Bush’s case, where he looked at his watch during the debate; this actually portrayed an aspect of impatience. This was understood by many people and could have greatly impacted his public image. However, he still emerged the winner at the end of it. It is therefore possible to conclude that these televised debates affect the outcome of elections not in all cases. Nonetheless, it depends on a predetermined attitude of the electorates themselves.


The debates that are showcased by different television stations are important in the end results of any election. Thus, it is recommended for the candidate to take the opportunity of focusing on the debates because they seem to have an effect in the final outcome of the election. In the end, the debates are important in ensuring that the voters are engaged in the political issues. Alongside, the debates are important for the candidates as they gives them the opportunity to clarify some issues which might affect the outcome of the general elections in the long run. The televised presidential debates are also important in shaping the voters’ perception of both the political ideas that the voters may have and the perception of different political actors. The debates also provide the candidates with an important platform to showcase their strengths and weaknesses in relation to the seat they are eyeing. Therefore, those who view the presidential debates should be recommended to take seriously these factors. During this year’s debates, it will be very difficult to predict the possible outcomes due to the fact that the preferences and tastes of the people keep changing all the time. Political debates are therefore very important as they facilitated good leadership.

Away from this, the analysis presented above has provided that televised presidential debates has mostly benefits in determining election outcomes. It is through these means that the presidential candidates are able to reach out to a greater group of their audience in a single moment. Others also utilize this as a means of strengthening their agenda and making the great impact on what they believe in and what they would like to do. It is also clear that the means of presenting the presidential contestants have been greatly advanced since 1960. This has helped to revolutionize the American elections and make it one of the most distinct election processes across the globe. Furthermore, it has been a search for the revolution because presidential debates makes it possible to put the contestants in the same platform and allow them to present their ideas at the same time in order to enable the electorates to make their wise choices based on the most appropriate ideas of the presidential aspirant.

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