Should debates matter?

The following is an excellent video from the Wall Street Journal that places this week’s debate in historical context.  Watch it, and then answer one of the questions raised by the video:  Is it fair that some people base their voting decision on which candidate is the “better debater”?



15 responses to “Should debates matter?”

  1. Carolyn4 says :

    When analyzing the George H W Bush vs Bill Clinton debate, Jim Lehrer said in this video that “the only reason it mattered [that Bush checked his watch] was because it fulfilled something that was already in the wind.” I think this statement is an essential point when asking if debates matter. Let’s say that a Republican who is planning to vote for Romney this fall is watching the debates, and Obama scratches his head a few times. That voter, who has already built an attack-mechanism against Obama, will comment and claim that Obama is a restless debater, or even that he has dandruff or something as foolish as that. It is human nature to nit-pick at little things about someone that we already have a strong conception of negative thoughts against them. Now for an unbiased voter, maybe Obama’s scratching might throw them off and they will ultimately decide to vote for Romney just because he isn’t scratching his head. I think these mannerisms are just tools for people who have already made up their minds to mock the other candidates or find other reasons not to vote for them.

  2. robhrabchak4 says :

    Three debates that are an hour and a half each play a relatively small role in the entire scope of a campaign that has been active for many months, so I do not think that undecided voters should use them as their sole evaluation of a candidate. The debates do, however, offer a glimpse into how the candidates can handle themselves and talk without their words first being meticulously screened by teams of speechwriters and campaign advisers. Popkin made the case that in order to become president a candidate has to play three roles, one of which is “royal family, demonstrating the virtues and values of a leader”. The qualities that come out in a debate such as persuasiveness, emotion, and body language I think are all closely associated with those of a good leader. The debates may then lead to part of an evaluation of a candidate’s presidential potential, but they must be judged in context with the rest of the campaign.

  3. Tanya4 says :

    In my opinion, it is very clear that voting on the candidate who is the “better debater” is unjust. As was conveyed in the video, many people are basing their vote off of candidates appearances, nervous habits or quirks. This is not the way to pick a president. The people should be picking a president based on the policies and ideas they agree with. Thus, I don’t think the decision regarding who to vote for should be solely based on debate. That being said I also think that many of the qualities that are necessary to be successful during debates (i.e. eloquence and public speaking skills) are important attributes presidents should posses. So, debates should be a factor in the decision process but not the only factor.

  4. natek7 says :

    In my opinion, voting for a president should never be dictated by one single factor. While debates are important and can be very informative it doesn’t make sense to judge a candidate solely on whether he is “a good debater”. The President is responsible for so many things that three debates shouldn’t drastically influence a voters opinion .Voters who are undecided shouldn’t be swayed by a candidates appearance or habits. Instead, these voters should be persuaded by a candidate’s policies and ideas that are backed with facts.

  5. katiepetrino4 says :

    Though I agree that debates should not be the only decisive factor in a campaign, I do think they are very, very important. As a commentator pointed out, it gives voters an opportunity to see the candidates state their views on one stage and compare them. Kathleen Hall Jamieson makes the point that it doesn’t matter to her how much the President sighs, referencing Vice President Al Gore’s performance in a debate in 2000. Yet, she goes on to say that these debates should not only be about issues, but on temperament as well. Therein lies the flaw in her argument: the viewers at home in their living rooms are judging temperament not just by responses to questions, but by little ticks like checking a watch or sighing. It’s easy to ascribe this to the fact that the audience has pre-conceived notions going in that are only supported by watching. In other words, we can blame the “ignorant masses” for the emphasis placed on debates. I don’t think that’s fair. In the post-modern era where the President is seen as having the most power because of the development of nuclear technology, Presidential candidates are and should be held to a higher standard. Substantive policy matters should take center stage in a debate, but I don’t think that it is entirely unfair for people to judge a candidate’s nervous tendencies.

    • Naiyah1 says :

      I agree. While debates should not be the sole factor in your voting decision, I think they should still play a large role. Prior to debates, you are only hearing exactly what the candidate and his or her campaign team want you to hear. A debate puts candidates on the spot forcing them to answer questions that matter to voters and respond immediately to attacks without a chance to be fed well chosen words from some unknown source. Voters get to see how the candidates act in compromising situations and then get choose who they’d rather have should a crisis arise. While some may say that debates are unimportant or do not mattert, I think it is clear that they matter to the voters making them important.

  6. emmar4 says :

    I think that Presidential debates are one of the most important aspects of a campaign. As Rob said, the candidates are more or less “off the cuff” in their answers, as they do not have a prepared and edited speech. This is a chance for voters to hear the candidate’s immediate reactions and unscripted answers. In the video, Bob Schieffer states that voters want to pick a candidate they feel more comfortable with (all other issues aside). I think this is a very important function that the debates serve– they show an uncut version of candidates, revealing their ability to respond and speak adeptly. Voters do not want to see an uncomfortable, extremely nervous, or weak orator. A candidate should not be judged on something as trivial as a head scratch, but when a voter is comfortable with and approves of the content of the debate and the ability of the speaker, it goes a long way for the candidate.

  7. megweck1 says :

    I think it is important to point out that the debates serve an extremely important purpose- educating people who feel “behind” or “uninformed” about the election. Of course there will always be people who base their vote upon habits or appearances, but the overall point of debates is to make it extremely clear where the candidates stand on certain issues, and to compare these positions side by side. I think it is up to the candidate to prepare well, and to become a “good debater”. Nowadays, candidates know full well that a debate can mean extra votes. In this election, however, the contrast between the two candidates is so stark that it will be all about getting the information across to those that are still undecided, or still confused.

  8. 4thomas says :

    This video was very interesting and made many true points. The video portrayed the importance of “appearance”, not only in debates but in elections in general. It makes it clear that the media and the voters will focus on the sighing, sweating, head scratching, and watch checking of the candidates rather then their responses. Although it is almost shameful to pick a president merely on appearance, it is a reality of America today. Nonetheless, debates are important. They are the only time when the candidates are side by side and interacting. It is crucial to hear what each candidate has to say to one another and their responses. I am excited for this Wednesday’s debate, not so I can determine which candidate looks sharper, but rather to see who has better responses and answers.

  9. Emily1 says :

    I believe that the previous video about Early Voting can give us the answer to the presidential debates. The poles are open today, October 2nd, a day before the presidential debates begin. They get much more attention and recognition than I believe is necessary. This is a small part in the campaign when looking at the grand scheme of things. Why are they given so much importance? Why not pay attention to speeches in individual states, and the past months/years of campaigning? People rely way to much on a couple hours of debate on TV.
    The other problem I see with the debates is the aspect of television. As Tanya said, candidates are judged by nervous habits and appearance. If people are really using the debates as a tool to help them vote, they should come out of the debate commenting things like “I can appreciate Obama’s foreign policy ideas” rather than “Did you see Obama’s nervous twitch?!” It is a completely shallow reflection of our society. The words are what matter, not the 5 o’clock shadow or glance at a watch.

  10. BenLev4 says :

    I think that appearance, confidence and other attributes portrayed by the candidate in a debate is important when voting, and was proven so in this video. By no means, do I mean to vote for the better looking candidate, but as the video stated, you want to vote with “someone you could live with.” For swing voters, the prowess of a candidate can make or break their vote. While the undecided should continue still focus on which policies both they and their candidate support, I believe that one of the X factors in their choice is how comfortable they feel with the candidate. In a moment of national crisis, you want a leader that looks, speaks, and acts like a leader. In a debate many of these aspects are simulated. They share their policies, should speak with confidence, and attempt to paint the picture of a strong leader. This makes debates one of the most crucial moments in any campaign.

  11. Dan1 says :

    Based on last nights debate and the discussion in class, the body language and attentiveness of the debater if what most leaves an impression. On of the women on the video said that many times the viewers are left with one small gesture or thing a candidate does during the debate. In the case of George H.W. Bush its when he looks at his watch which fulfilled a pre-conceived notion that he was an arrogant guy. Last night I think Mitt Romney did the opposite and reversed what most Americans thought about him going in, which is why many people say he “won”. He was able to control the big picture by doing small things such as listening attentively to Obama and being direct and specific, things which he was not expected to do.

  12. benjamin1 says :

    This question reminds me of what I think was the last chapter of The Candidate, titled, “Is this any way to elect a president?” This was reference to the whole campaign, but the argument presented by Popkin is relavent to this question of should debates matter. He argued that though the obstacles of running a campaign do not necessarily translate to those of running an administration, a person’s ability to cope with them is a good barometer of how they will preform the “three jobs” of a president. Though it doesn’t really make sense to judge how fit a candidate is to be president based off of seemingly minor actions in debates, the poise and composure required of them certainly is relavent when considering how qualified they are to be top dog.

  13. Crawford4 says :

    I think the most important part of the debates the the fact that the candidates are side by side. This gives people the chance to view the candidates in a “comparative manner”. Unlike campaign trail speeches or ads where you are likely to only see one party or the other. Both party candidates are standing up right before the American people and laying out their differences. Those differences become much more tangible to the average american in a debate

  14. Natesa1 says :

    I don’t think debates are a big part of an election, because as we saw in the first debate Obama did not do as well as expected and was looked at like he was on the defense. This did not determine the turnout of this years election. Debates are a way for the people to see how the candidates react with one another and for the candidates to repeat their policies and what they are planning to do if they are elected or re-elected. Not only do I think that debates are not a determining factor, a lot of it is comedic. Elections should definitely not be based off a debate, they’re pretty much useless when it comes to picking a candidate, in my opinion. Being a “better debater” does not make the person a better candidate for presidency, it just says something about the person’s character.

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