In recent years, it’s become common for presidential candidates to hold debates before election day. This helps the American people get to know them a bit better, and may help people decide who to vote for.
A lot of people say that presidential debates don’t really change any minds. This might be true for people who have already decided who they want to vote for. Good or bad performances in debates can help undecided voters make up their minds.
Using Debates to Turn Heads
One of the best debaters was Ronald Reagan. During the debates between President Jimmy Carter and his challenger Reagan, Carter came across as serious and angry. Reagan was able to turn the viewers’ attention to that by saying, “There you go again” after Carter attacked Reagan’s politics.
At the end of the debate, Reagan stared into the camera and ask Americans whether the last four years under Carter had been getting better or worse for them. A simple question asked to the viewers helped ensure that he became the next president.
Years later, when Reagan was running for re-election, he was criticized for his older age. In a funny moment, he joked about his opponent Walter Mondale’s, youth and inexperience. He managed to turn a criticism of himself into a benefit. Both candidates’ campaign managers said that Reagan had won the debate at that moment. Not long after, he won the election in another landslide victory.
Debate Image and Why It Matters
Image is very important to presidential debates, even though most people never think about it. In the first-ever televised presidential debate, Richard Nixon gave off a bad image to voters, even though he may have said the right things. He wore a suit that didn’t fit. He blended in with the background. His skinny appearance after leaving the hospital made him look small, and his choice not to wear makeup made him look sick and tired on stage. After the debate, his opponent John F. Kennedy took the lead over Nixon. People who watched the debates felt that Kennedy had won. Those who listened to it on the radio thought Nixon won.
Debates form images in voters’ minds, and these images can decide who wins the election.