The Past and Future of Presidential Debates

By Austin Ranney | Go to book overview

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Presidential Candidate "Debates":
What Can We Learn from 1960

Evron M. Kirkpatrick

The "great debates" (actually, neither great, nor debates) held in the 1960 presidential election campaign between candidates Richard Nixon and John Kennedy had more viewers and listeners than any broadcast of a political event up to that point. Not only was the audience larger but also interest in and advance knowledge of the "debates" was enormous. The "debates" themselves may very well have determined the outcome of the election, and the amount of research on and writing about these television encounters has been extraordinary.1

In the spring of 1963, the American Political Science Association appointed a Commission on Presidential Campaign Debates, which was asked to "review past experience, consider the implications of future television and radio debates between Presidential candidates, and make recommendations regarding format and procedure for such debates" if held (from the preface to the Report of the Commission on Presidential Campaign Debates, 1964). The commission included Carl J. Friedrich, chairman, Evron M. Kirkpartrick, Harold D. Lasswell, Richard E. Neustadt, Peter H. Odegard, Elmo Roper, Telford Taylor, Charles A. H. Thomson, and Gerhard D. Wiebe and was financed by a grant from the National Broadcasting Company. A report (now out of print) was published in 1964. It was a report of the commission, not of the association or NBC. The association's executive director, writing on behalf of the commission, invited all members of Congress, all governors, and all state and national party chairmen of the two major parties to submit their views on the format and procedures for presidential debates. Replies were received from about one-third of the members of the House, onethird of the state chairmen, more than a third of the senators, and over half of the governors. In this paper I have drawn freely on the letters and on the report.

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Strictly speaking, the Nixon-Kennedy "debates" should, in my judgment, be referred to in quotation marks to distinguish them from true debates, such as the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. For ease of reading, however, the 1960 debates will henceforth appear without special punctuation. The best single source on the 1960 debates is Sidney Kraus, ed., The Great Debates ( Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962). For other works on both the 1960 and the 1976 debates, see the bibliography at the end of this volume.

An unexpected consequence of the 1960 debates was that several other countries including Germany, Sweden, Finland, Italy, and Japan, instituted campaign

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The Past and Future of Presidential Debates
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface *
  • 1 - Presidential Candidate "Debates": What Can We Learn from 1960 1
  • Discussion 51
  • 2 - Historical Evolution of Section 315 56
  • Discussion 70
  • 3 - Presidential Debates: an Empirical Assessment 75
  • Discussion 102
  • 4 - The 1976 Presidential Debates: a Republican Perspective 107
  • Discussion 131
  • 5 - Did the Debates Help Jimmy Carter? 137
  • Discussion 147
  • 6 - The Case for Permanent Presidential Debates 155
  • Discussion 169
  • 7 - Debatable Thoughts on Presidential Debates 175
  • Discussion 187
  • 8 - Presidential Debates: an Overview 191
  • Discussion 206
  • Bibliography 215
  • Contributors 225
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