Monday, October 1, 2012

The Debates

With the candidates for President of the United States running neck and neck, this Wednesday's debate is of particular importance.  It is going to give Americans their first side by side look at President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, and see what each of their thoughts are to the same questions.  These will be answers from their own mouths and not expressed from the press's view.

Fifty-Two years ago Americans were able to see their candidates side by side for the first time ever on National TV.  September 26, 1960, with 70 million viewers glued to their TV sets, Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy met for their first of three debates.

Many contend that this first debate changed the dynamics of the race completely.  Nixon insisted on campaigning until just a few hours before the first debate started.  He was still recovering from a knee injury and hospital stay thus looking pale, sickly, underweight, and tired.  He also refused makeup for the first debate, and as a result his beard stubble showed prominently on the black and white TV screens.  Kennedy, by contrast, rested and prepared extensively before hand in California.  He appeared tanned, confident, and relaxed during the debate.

Those who heard the first debate on the radio pronounced Nixon the winner.  The 70 million who watched television saw a candidate still sickly and obviously discomforted by Kennedy's smooth delivery and charisma.  Those television viewers focused on what they saw, not what they heard.   Studies of the audience indicated that, among television viewers, Kennedy was perceived the winner of the first debate by a very large margin.  Unfortunately for Nixon, the second and third debates were watched by 20 million fewer viewers than the first.

More than half of all voters reported that the "Great Debates" had influenced their opinion.  6% reported that their vote was the result of the debates alone.  Regardless of whether the debates changed the election result, voters pointed to the debates as a significant reason for electing Kennedy.

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