Social Media:


Navigate Site:


This site is powered by:

Powered by Squarespace
This form does not yet contain any fields.


    Anecdotal Observations On History & Politics

    Entries in no debate held (1)


    The Presidential Debate Tradition

    The presidential debates are an opportunity to see the candidates side by side as they make their pitch, but they’re also something that we, as voters, may take for granted. The forums that we’ve come to expect every four years are essentially a recent phenomenon, occurring only in one presidential election before 1976.
    While the first presidential debate in US history is often falsely attributed to Lincoln-Douglass, they were in fact held for the Illinois Senate race of 1858, which Lincoln lost. It was the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960, which are commonly referred to as the “first televised presidential debates,” that were actually the first presidential debates -- they just also happened to be televised.
    But Kennedy-Nixon did little to establish the precedent for election cycles to follow, as no debates were held in 1964, ’68 and ‘72. In each race the frontrunner declined the invitation in part because they were polling so far ahead that there was little incentive to engage an opponent on an equal playing field. Once rebuffed, challengers often took to publicly goading their opponent into a one-on-one, as did underdog candidates Goldwater, Humphrey and McGovern in their respective races.
    The trend of “frontrunner rebuff” ended in 1976 when the sitting President, Gerald Ford, challenged Democratic Nominee Jimmy Carter to debate – in effect, challenging the challenger – throwing down the gauntlet in his convention speech, no less.  Despite polling fifteen points ahead, Carter took the risk and accepted the President’s invitation, setting a new precedent of participating, regardless of standing in the polls.
    Those debates in 1976 and the two to follow in 1980 and 1984 proved increasingly difficult to arrange, and almost didn’t happen in 1980. The problem was that representatives of both candidates were tasked with working out the details, a drawn-out negotiation that proved difficult for rival campaigns each hoping for a strategic advantage in the heat of an election. In 1980, the deadlock was not resolved until October 18th, only 17 days before the November 4th election.
    In an attempt to simplify the negotiation and establish debates as a permanent part of the electoral process, the RNC and DNC came together in 1985 to recommend the now-standard schedule of four debates: three presidential, and one vice-presidential. Labeled by the Christian Science Monitor as “the great debate debate,” the result was the establishment in 1987 of the bipartisan, nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates, which sponsors, schedules and produces the forums to this day – transforming the Presidential debates from that of novelty to established tradition.