Decision 2020

Virtual Presidential Debates: Not a New Thing

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“The debate is obviously a great way for each candidate to express their ideas and contrast with each other on the stage,” said Austin Elliot Thursday afternoon in New Haven.

That’s what debates are designed for.

“Even though voters don’t learn a lot about all the details of every issue, we do know they learn a lot from these debates,” said Scott McLean, professor of political science at Quinnipiac University.

But Wednesday evening’s vice-presidential debate had one moment of social media buzz.

“The fly really stole the show last night, I hate to say it,” said Elliot.

Highlighting a political year unlike any other.

“I even posted on social media about the fly in his hair, like what is that,” said Chris Haynes, associate professor of political science at the University of New Haven.

Haynes said after last night the focus is back on the presidential debates. The next will be virtual, and the president says he won’t log on.

“It’s really never a good look if you don’t show up,” said Haynes.  

It wouldn’t be the first time two candidates weren’t in the same room. It was done 60 years ago this week on October 13, 1960.

“In New York the Democratic presidential nominee Senator John F. Kennedy. Separated by 3,000 miles in a Los Angeles studio, the Republican presidential nominee Vice President Richard M. Nixon,” said moderator Bill Shadel as he introduced the candidates.

“They were both campaigning on opposite sides of the country,” explained McLean, who said it went well. “Historians tell us Nixon was perceived as the winner of that debate.”

Decades later, are debates helpful in this election?

“If I didn’t know anything going into politics, then I didn’t really learn anything from the debates,” said Josh McKnight of New Haven.

“I don’t know how many people are really undecided at this point,” said Haynes.

One Quinnipiac poll analyst said those undecided voters are few. 

“I think this time we ask: ‘are you decided?’” said Tim Malloy. “And I think 96-97% of Americans say, ‘I’m done, I’ve decided who I’m going to vote for.’”

As Election Day nears, and new voters this year say their excitement is being overshadowed.

“There was a lot of pressure to vote in itself, not even about who you’re voting for just to vote in general,” said Meghan Gorman. At 18 years old, she said most of her friends are registered and ready.

“It’s like urgency almost. Like it’s really important that you do.”

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