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Parties and Platforms

Campaigns and Nominations

What are some notable debates of the late twentieth century?

For a variety of reasons, including candidates’ reluctance and the equal-time provision of the Communications Act, no presidential debates took place between 1960 and 1976. By 1976, both the law and candidates’ attitudes had changed, and the 1976 debates between incumbent Gerald Ford and challenger Jimmy Carter were significant: it was the first time a sitting president participated in televised presidential debates, and the first time that vice presidents were included in debates.

The 1980s and 1990s marked an era where presidential debates became the most talked-about aspect of a candidate’s campaign. The September 1980 Ronald Reagan–John Anderson debate marked the first time only one major party candidate (Reagan) participated in a general election debate (Democrat Jimmy Carter did not want to debate independent Anderson and refused to participate). In 1992, presidential debates were at an unprecedented high; ninety-seven million viewers tuned in for the presidential debate between incumbent president George Bush, Democratic contender Bill Clinton, and independent H. Ross Perot. This debate marked the first time a third-party candidate participated in general election debates with both major party candidates. Later in 1992, in Richmond, Virginia, the three candidates debated the issues in front of some two hundred average Americans who questioned them for approximately ninety minutes. The debate’s “town meeting” format garnered unprecedented attention because it featured the candidates meeting face-to-face with the populace.



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