Televised Presidential Debates: Advocacy in Contemporary America

By Susan A. Hellweg; Michael Pfau et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
The Impacts of Presidential Debates

Very likely the debates may only reinforce an opinion already held, or create uncertainties that finally are resolved in terms of surface impressions or party affiliation. But they can have, undeniably, a major, if not decisive, influence.

-- Columnists Jack Germond and Jules Witcover

( 1979, p. 198)

All research points in one direction: debates have not directly and immediately led to any significant number of changes in voting intentions. Yet, a strong case can be made that, without the televised debates in 1960 and 1980, neither Kennedy nor Reagan would have been elected: the course of history would have been changed.

-- Communication Professor Gladys Engel Lang ( 1987, p. 211)

Televised presidential debates are among the most watched programs ever broadcast. Approximately 80 percent of Americans viewed at least one debate in 1960 ( Katz & Feldman, 1977); 90 percent watched at least one in 1976 ( Alexander & Margolis, 1980). As a result, past televised presidential debates have been able to reach in excess of 100 million people ( Drucker & Hunold, 1987; Hershey, 1989; Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on Presidential Debates, 1979), far surpassing the typical audience share for all but a handful of televised events.

The important questions are: Do they make any difference? If so, which specific impacts do they generate? The opening quotations to this chapter epitomize the contradictions involving the effects issue. A

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Televised Presidential Debates: Advocacy in Contemporary America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Copyright Acknowledgments v
  • Contents ix
  • About the Series xi
  • Notes xiii
  • Series Foreword xv
  • Note xix
  • References xix
  • Preface xxi
  • Chapter One - History of Television Involvement in Presidential Debates 1
  • Note 19
  • Chapter Two - The Structure of Presidential Debate Formats 21
  • Chapter Three - The Verbal Dimension of Presidential Debates 37
  • Chapter Four - The Visual Dimension of Presidential Debates 71
  • Chapter Five - The Impacts of Presidential Debates 101
  • Conclusions 125
  • Appendix 129
  • References 133
  • Author Index 155
  • About the Authors 167
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