The Verbal Dimension of Presidential Debates
The television and radio stations of the United States and their affiliated stations are proud to provide facilities for a discussion of issues in the current political campaign by the two major candidates for the presidency.
-- Howard K. Smith, moderator of the first Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate ( Kraus, 1977, p. 348)
Thank God it was on television.
-- Richard Wirthlin, pollster for Ronald Reagan, after reading the transcript of the 1980 Reagan-Carter debate ( Jamieson & Birdsell, 1988, p. 218)
Since 1960 televised debates between major candidates for president have represented the only opportunity for the American voters to see the nominees side by side for an extended period of time, during which they are forced to deal with the issues of the day. Yet, presidential debates are television events, featuring both sound and pictures. This chapter focuses on the verbal aspects of the debates. But just exactly what constitutes the verbal component of debates?
First, it encompasses the manifest content of debates. Do the debates primarily involve discussion of the issues of the day, or are they primarily vehicles for the projection of candidate's image? What is the argumentative structure of the debates? What stylistic elements do candidates employ? Second, the verbal component includes the role of the questioners in the debates. Third, it features the political context of debates. What strategies do candidates employ? How do incumbents and challengers