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POLITICAL DEBATES. POSITIVE Unmediated messages Taking part in history Ritual Affirming Governance Reveal ability to lead via Television Comparatively Genuine. NEGATIVE No new information, stump speeches revisited Amplify importance, exaggerate mistakes Skills not those needed to Govern

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positive and negative aspects

Unmediated messages

Taking part in history

Ritual Affirming Governance

Reveal ability to lead via Television

Comparatively Genuine


No new information, stump speeches revisited

Amplify importance, exaggerate mistakes

Skills not those needed to Govern

Are counterfeit, emphasize superficial “acting” ability

rhetorical goals of the candidates
  • Controlling the agenda
    • independence from the question
    • setting the future story
  • Showing leadership
    • Favorable creation of “the people”
    • Formulate an attractive vision for the nation
    • engender respect, dispel fears
  • Complementing with the general campaign storyline
    • Political ads, news reporting, themes
what does it mean to win a debate
  • Score points of the issues of day
  • Create, reinforce a presidential image
  • Avoid missteps, mistakes
  • Control the pre and post-debate spin
  • Fit with “expectations” of press and candidates
  • Consistency with Character or public persona
  • Convincing undecided, or reinforcing the faithful
  • Setting the agenda for subsequent campaign
role of media
  • Demand a winner and loser
  • Celebration of the press as conduit and interpreter for the “public”
  • That the event has elevated important, to match the expenditure of resources
  • That a storyline develops
  • That a simplified symbolic representation is found
wake forest hosted presidential debates in 1988 2000
Wake Forest hosted presidential debates in 1988 & 2000
  • 1988 A Vice-President & a Governor
  • 2000 A Vice-President & a Governor
  • 1988 Approximately 1200 newspersons
  • 2000 Approximately 3000 newspersons
  • 1988 Estimated Viewers 65 million
  • 2000 Estimated Viewers 39 million
what voters look for
What Voters Look For
  • Persuasive Factors
  • Most important factors: precision, firmness, energy, commitment.
  • Preference for fairness, engaging ideas of opponent, reasoned arguments
  • Nonverbal factors: modulated voice, energetic articulation, intense gaze, energetic posture, firm directed gestures.
  • Politeness matters
  • What voters say they like about debates
  • Think debates are more “real”ideally – spontaneous, unscripted and honest
  • Feel they give a better idea issues understanding than speech or ad
  • Capacity for quick thinking and handle pressure
  • Dislike: backstabbing
what voters think about political debates
What Voters Think about Political Debates
  • Older demographic groups value debates more
  • 83% think there should be multiple debates, (but one is usually enough)
  • 74% said they would watch—(but more often they don’t watch)
  • 90% think they are important because they “get a personal sense of who the candidates are as people” . . . to see difference between candidates (Is that what the get?)
  • 57% said less likely to vote for candidate for Governor or Senate who refused to debate – (but other things more than trump this)
  • 50% believe that average citizens should ask the questions, journalist next at 23% (But Journalist think they are the important conduit)
  • 92% thought candidates knowledge about issues important, 85% thought their positions were important (but Character trumps)
  • 70% said keeping cool and calm as important (But some spunk goes a long ways, and righteous indignance can work as well)
pre debate realities

Expectations Matter


Candidate Persona

Media Narratives

Context – Recency & News-of-the-day

Context- framing & Agenda Setting

negotiating debates
Negotiating Debates

Debating the Debates – Finding High Ground While Getting Your Way

The Meta-Debate as Surrogate for Campaign Competence

general advise debates are more than issues
General AdviseDebates are more than issues
  • Character as criterion
  • Interaction is the measure
  • A debate is not a speech but rather a conversation
  • Fluency is valued, but trumped by authenticity, thoughtfulness
  • “Less is More”, Timing
  • “Remaking” the candidate – Don’t do it!
  • Format matters
  • Have Fun
prep questions
Prep Questions
  • Your campaign has few initiative that specifically target minorities (Black and Hispanic) in North Carolina. Do you think better/special efforts need to be make in these areas?
  • I am the owner of a hog farm in Eastern North Carolina. We feel the environmental lobbies and regulations are putting us out of business. What would you do as a US senator to restore farming as a viable lifestyle to my family?
  • Many have criticized you for being “overprepped” in your public appearances. Can you assess your management style you would bring to the Senate? 
  • What do you think the role of women should be in the unfolding century?
preparing responses
Preparing Responses
  • Civil Liberties
  • Bowles attack: The Justice Department under John Ashcroft is throwing out protections long part of the American tradition. He has asked neighbors to spy on neighbors, hold secret courts, and detain suspects without charges. It is time that fundamental civil rights are protected.
  • Question: “Civil Liberties are being undermined in the name of protecting National Security. Are you for giving additional powers to the administration?”
  • The United States is going through a very difficult time in its history. We have a serious and immediate threat posed to the security of our citizens. I am strongly in favor of measures that allow for the detention and prosecution of those who would threaten our nation.
  • We also must remember those values that comprise the “American Way of Life.” We must honor those men and women who have sacrificed in times of national crisis to preserve that way of life. An important reason we have opposed dictators and terrorist is to preserve Civil Liberties. I have spend a lifetime working to shore up of these basic rights enjoyed by all American citizens and would continue to be vigilant in the US Senate. We should never compromise civil liberties for United States citizens.
  • Protecting civil liberties, however, should not be confused with some kind of “politically correct” society. For example, I have commended the Catawba County Republicans for not backing down to the American Civil Liberties Union when lawyers cited the County for having a cross on its official seal. Part of the Freedom of Speech is to commend the values we hold true in this country, while being respectful of others points of view.
  • Mr. Bowles has recently offered roundabout criticisms of President Bush’s war on terror, even as he says he supports the efforts. He has said “We have to make sure we protect our basic civil freedoms.” In the abstract I couldn’t agree more, but such elusiveness is hardly a reason to support his candidacy. What does he actually oppose in the administrations actions?
the power of a good line
The power of a good line
  • Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER Wednesday, October 23,2002 12:00AM EDT
  • Whipped in name game
  • By DENNIS ROGERS, Staff Writer
  • Elizabeth Dole may have spent the past 40 years away from North Carolina, but her sweet-as-pie social skills, honed by generations of Southern ladies, were not dulled by her sojourn with the Yankees.
  • What she did to Erskine Bowles at the beginning of Saturday night's debate was a rhetorical butt-whipping delivered by the reigning queen of the Steel Magnolia Sisterhood.
  • Just call me Elizabeth, she purred from behind the innocent smile of a Columbus County water moccasin. Then she stuck a sterling silver butter knife between that Charlotte frat boy's ribs with her sweet offer to "make it Liddy, as you have in your ads."
  • Call in the dogs and put out the fire, boys: This hunt's over.
  • Bowles, who looked as if he'd been told his fly was open at a Presbyterian funeral, bravely soldiered on, but his heart wasn't in it. He knew he had fallen into the velvet trap that has ensnared many an unwary Southern male.
It was a down-home diva moment. She's calling him "Erskine" rather than "Mr. Bowles," not because they have a first- name friendship, but to put him in his subordinate place. It is one step above calling him "Sonny Boy." It conjures up images of students and teachers. He's about one debate from calling her "Ma'am" and raising his hand to speak. Clearly, she's the Boss Hen in that roost.
  • Not that he has a choice. If he'd started off calling her "Elizabeth," she would have politely called him "Mr. Bowles," which would have made him look as if he were being rude to an older Southern woman. That is a hanging social offense in the tangled web of Southern white-glove manners. For a Southern man to even be perceived as being disrespectful to an older woman is considered trashy.
  • Nor could he have taken her up on her insincere offer to call her "Liddy." That immediately makes a connection with his nasty campaign ads that use her nickname. Everyone who has not been asleep for the past several months knows she actually hates being called "Liddy" by anyone other than childhood friends who have earned the privilege.
  • Had he called her "Liddy" on live television, she would likely have crawled over that lectern and smacked him upside the head with a can of the industrial-strength hair spray she keeps close at all times. Even her own campaign staff goes to great lengths to refer her as "Mrs. Dole" and never as "Elizabeth" or, God forbid, "Liddy."
conclusions regarding format verbal and visual content and perceived effects

Drawn from Hellweg, S.A., Pfau, M., & Brydon, S.R. (1992). Televised presidential debates: Advocacy in contemporary America. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

1. Proliferation of primary debates - twice as many in 84 than 1980; three times as many in 88 than 84
  • 2. primary debate formats vary more; more informal, less rigid
  • 3. Intraparty debates usually TV; Interparty debates always TV
  • 4. Opening statements used infrequently in Presidential debates except, Kennedy/Nixon, Mondale/Dole VP debate
5. Closing statement are a regular feature
  • 6. Rebuttal opportunities in all sixteen general election debates; Only Carter/Reagan used more rebuttal periods
  • 7. Formal follow-up questions used in nearly half of general election debates
  • 8. Usual dichotomized into domestic and foreign affairs questions. Only in Ford/Carter were debate topic totally separated.
9. Formal candidate cross-X not normal. Only few time in intra party/ never interparty
  • 10. Majority of debate panelist have been print journalists (59%); broadcast journalists (41%)
  • 11. Except for 1976 Mondale/Dole VP debate, moderators have been broadcast journalist
12. Primary debates are using more national broadcast journalists
  • 13. Audience question sometimes happen in intraparty debates, never in bipartisan debates
  • 14. Immediate audience questions almost never used
  • 15. Most national debates last 90 minutes; a few an hour, one 74 minutes (Mondale/Dole)
16. some primary debates are as long as 2 hours/ more candidates, the longer
  • 17. Issues have some role, but mostly as a means of demonstrating competence and leadership qualities. When candidates get specific on issues, it is to go after a particular audience
  • 18. tend to be fairly vague - not make mistake; broaden appeal, time frames
19. Panelists tend to trivialize debates because of their questions
  • 20. Incumbents not necessarily at a disadvantage, depends on how their administration is seen at the time.
  • 21. most discourse is of a pithy sound-bite quality
  • 22. TV rewards a more casual and expressive style. TV tends to emphasize source, rather than message.
23. reward photographic presentation, hence staging, camera angle, placement, crowd reaction matter more
  • 24. effects: socialize younger viewers
  • 25. effects: mixed results: more impact when earlier, to affect agenda and there are more undecided.