This year's presidential election may be the closest in forty years. That's why the presidential debates have become so important. Now that one of the presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate is history, it's worth considering the importance of these debates.
More Americans watch the debates than any other political event. With viewership of the two political conventions down, the televised debates provided a great opportunity for voters to see and hear the two candidates. And that's another benefit of the debates: they force voters to see both candidates. Often we are tempted to only watch the candidate we like. Debates force us to see what both candidates are saying.
It's safe to say that these first two debates did not provide any clear winners or losers. In fact, some analysts wonder if the debates changed any minds. But we know from history that they do affect voting. Consider the 1960 and 1976 debates. It is pretty clear that in both of these debates the Republican (Richard Nixon in the first, Gerald Ford in the second) were hurt by their participation in the debate. Likewise John Kennedy and Jimmy Carter owed part of their victory to their performance in the debates.
Perception is so important this year because the race is so close. Is one candidate considered competent or a bully? Is another candidate considered confident or evasive? Voter perceptions may ultimately decide who is the next president. And if future debates surface political errors or gaffes, those will affect the race as well.
The presidential debates may not be that interesting, but they are an example of democracy in action. We'll see if the next few debates help determine a winner.
I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.