Presidential Debates

Presidential Debates : The Challenge of Creating an Informed Electorate

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American presidential debates have traditionally created mixed reviews. Advocates have praised the debates as a way of making issues more central to the campaign, however others have criticized them as little more than joint press conferences. How important are these debates? Do they really test knowledge and vision? Do they sort good ideas from bad, or reveal important character traits? In short, do they provide American voters with what they need to know to choose a President? The authors address these questions and place contemporary debates in their cultural and historical context, tracing their origins and development in the American political system from the 18th century to the more

Product details

  • Hardback | 272 pages
  • 144.78 x 210.82 x 27.94mm | 476.27g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 019505539X
  • 9780195055399

Review Text

A historical and analytical look at the uses, abuses, and future implications of presidential debates, by Jamieson (Communications/Univ. of Texas; Packaging the President, 1984; and Eloquence in an Electronic Age, 1988) and Birdsell (Baruch College), consultant to the Congressional Management Foundation. After a brief discussion of the history of presidential debates (a tradition going back as far as Washington, although in the early days the debates were often held between surrogates for the candidates and were of a much more academic nature than our current image-conscious brand), the authors catalogue the problems that debates currently pose. The main one is, of course, that they are really not "debates" at all, but rather "joint press conferences" in which the candidates know exactly what will be asked and, for the most part, have their snap two-minute responses down pat. The authors argue that "by minimizing confrontation, requiring brief responses, and spreading discussion across a smorgasbord of topics," debates sacrifice most of their educational value for the voters. To correct this, there would be a tree confrontational round; a televised press conference set up to determine how the candidates stand up to tough scrutiny; and lengthy conversations to add a quieter, more philosophical dimension to the campaign. Though the authors' suggestions are unimpeachable, one suspects that the media age has circumscribed the possibilities for image-minded campaign managers to allow their candidates to be zeroed in on too closely. Nevertheless, a good try. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Kathleen Hall Jamieson

About the Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the G.B. Dealey Professor of Communication at the University of Texas, Austin. She has written two other books on political discourse--Packaging the Presidency and Eloquence in an Electronic Age--and has served on the 20th-Century Fund's Taskforce on Presidential Debates. David S. Birdsell is Assistant Professor at Baruch College and consultant to the Congressional Management more

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