The advantages of modern presidential debates

In chapter 5 of Presidential Debates: The Challenge of Creating an Informed Electorate, authors Kathleen Jamieson and David Birdsell outline a number of advantages of  contemporary presidential debates:

  • Debates provide useful information to voters about the candidates’ issue preferences, priorities, and personalities. They build on information already present in the news and on campaign advertisements.
  • Research has shown that those who watch debates display a greater ability to identify important information about candidates and their platforms than those who don’t watch debates.
  • Debates often prompt potential voters to seek out additional information about candidates and issues after watching televised debates.
  • Debates encourage candidates to take specific issues and “engage the issues considered central by the other side” (pg 131).
  • Unless they attend candidate rallies, debates provide citizens with the opportunity to see candidates for nearly two hours – much more than the 30-60 seconds they get in ads of news sound bites.
  • Debates reveal the communication skills of presidential candidates, help get a glimpse of their personality traits, and how they perform in stressful situations. This can be helpful to help judge how a candidate would handle the tasks of the presidency.
  • Debates force candidates to make sure they know something about a wide range of important issues, better preparing them for office.
  • Debates provide opportunities for candidates to provide criteria by which their presidencies should be judged.

My next post will summarize the disadvantages of the modern presidential debate format.

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