The Past and Future of Presidential Debates

By Austin Ranney | Go to book overview

5
Did the Debates Help Jimmy Carter?
Stephan Lesher
with
Patrick Caddell and Gerald RafshoonIn commenting on the close election of 1976, Jimmy Carter said flatly that "if it hadn't been for the debates, I would have lost. They established me as competent on foreign and domestic affairs and gave the viewers reason to think that Jimmy Carter has something to offer." Carter's assessment raises a series of questions:
Did he "win" the debates in the sense that he was superior to President Ford?
Did the debates change the minds of voters; that is, did they shift votes from Ford to Carter?
If Carter would have lost the election except for the debates, what may we infer about their value for the future?
If they helped Carter, did they hurt Ford?
Did they provide a service to the electorate of sufficient magnitude to institutionalize debates?
Opinion research available to Carter as a candidate and assessments of Carter's closest political advisers lead to several conclusions.
1. The debates helped both candidates by diminishing, if not eradicating, the general publics negative perceptions of each.
2. Carter was the greater beneficiary because his likely presidential performance was less "known."
3. "Winning" or "losing" the debates had an insignificant impact on the electorate for both candidates.
4. The outcome of the debates changed few votes; in the Carter campaign, the debates were planned to shore up perceived weaknesses among likely supporters rather than to expand support.
5. Although Carter undoubtedly is right that he would have lost the election without the essential forum of the debates, the debates

-137-

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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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