Presidential Debates: The Challenge of Creating an Informed Electorate

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Presidential debates have had mixed reviews. Advocates praise debates as a way of making issues more central to the campaign. Others criticize them as little more than joint press conferences. How important are these debates? Do they really test knowledge and vision? Do they sort good ideas from bad, or reveal important character traits and habits of mind? In short, do they provide voters with what they need to know to choose a president?
To address these questions, the ...
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Overview


Presidential debates have had mixed reviews. Advocates praise debates as a way of making issues more central to the campaign. Others criticize them as little more than joint press conferences. How important are these debates? Do they really test knowledge and vision? Do they sort good ideas from bad, or reveal important character traits and habits of mind? In short, do they provide voters with what they need to know to choose a president?
To address these questions, the authors place contemporary debates in their cultural and historical context, tracing their origins and development in the American political tradition, from the eighteenth century to the present. Although the Kennedy-Nixon TV confrontations were an historical first, debate was an element of American electoral politics by 1788 and a staple of policy deliberation throughout the colonial period. Indeed, much of the confusion over the value of debates stems in part from the long tradition of political debating in America. Thus, to make the most productive use of debate in modern presidential politics, the authors argue, we must respond to the history of this tradition.
The book concludes with recommendations to preserve the best elements of traditional debate while adapting to the requirements of the broadcast age. The reforms they advocate include: substantive debates between major party representatives between elections; alternative formats; use of visual aids in debates; follow-up press conferences; a focus on fewer issues and increased experimentation in the primaries.
Presidential debates provide voters with a rare opportunity to evaluate political reasoning on complex issues. In suggesting ways to make presidential debates even more effective, this thought-provoking volume makes an important contribution to America's political future.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195055399
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/13/1988
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 5.81 (w) x 8.44 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Authors:

Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the G.B. Dealey Professor of Communication at the University of Texas, Austin. She has written two other books on political discourse--Packaging the Presidency and Eloquence in an Electronic Age--and has served on the 20th-Century Fund's Taskforce on Presidential Debates. David S. Birdsell is Assistant Professor at Baruch College and consultant to the Congressional Management Foundation.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 Characteristics of Prebroadcast Debates in America 17
2 The Contributions of American Debate, 1770-1920 39
3 The Limitations of American Debate, 1770-1920 64
4 The Impact of Broadcasting on Debates 84
5 The Power of Broadcast Debates 120
6 The Problems of Broadcast Debates 162
7 The Promise of Debates 194
Appendix 1 Presidential Debates, 1948-1984 223
Appendix 2 The Law and Presidential Debates 229
Notes 231
References 241
Index 259
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