The Electronic Election: Perspectives on the 1996 Campaign Communication

By Lynda Lee Kaid; Dianne G. Bystrom | Go to book overview

might influence one's voting decision. Also, with the establishment of distinct debate formats, future research may examine possible differences in voter learning, regarding both issue and image information, resulting from the differing debate structures. Finally, scholars interested in the degree to which political debates acknowledge a "public agenda" may wish to examine the town hall debate, as citizens participating in this study indicated that such an agenda was addressed by the citizen forum in San Diego.

In fashioning future debates, the usefulness of these exchanges for voters can certainly be improved by loosening the tight time restrictions on candidate responses and allowing questioners, especially citizens in town hall forums, to engage in follow-up questioning. This study also suggests that a combination of formats, utilizing both journalist and citizen questioners, is successful in providing coverage of a full range of campaign issues. With the continuation of town hall debates, a national audience may be better served by a forum of geographically diverse questioners, rather than citizens from one particular area.

As the most widely viewed events during a general election campaign, televised presidential debates serve an important function in the electoral process. Clearly, with candidates' need for absolute control of their message and with the limitations of mediated messages, there can never be a "perfect" political debate situation. Since this tradition began in 1960 with Kennedy and Nixon, one might argue that advancements in presidential debating have been made, such as the exclusion of the panel of media interrogators and the inclusion of citizen representatives. In the ongoing efforts to promote the type of campaign communication that produces a more educated and engaged citizenry, debates hold great promise. This hope was perhaps articulated best by a male voter from Oklahoma who concluded, "If all I had to depend upon was the campaign ads on TV, and all the magazines and various other news shows, I would be very disgusted. But I'm coming away saying, 'I'm glad I saw the debate! I'm glad I saw the two men speak for themselves.'"


ACKNOWLEDGMENT

We wish to thank Jason Anderson, Illinois State University, for his assistance with analysis of focus group transcripts.

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