DemDaily: Download on the Debates

September 3, 2020

With the political party conventions behind us, the presidential contest is in full general election mode, including the upcoming 2020 presidential and vice presidential debates.

On Wednesday, The Commission on Presidential Debates announced moderators for the three presidential and one vice presidential debate between now and the November 3, 2020 election. All four debates will be moderated by a single individual.

Although the role and effectiveness of presidential debates have long been a subject of dispute regarding their impact on viewing voters, there is no question that America tunes in for the show.

The first televised presidential debate between John F. Kennedy (D) and Richard Nixon (R) in 1960 drew 66 million viewers out of a population of 179 million

2020 First Presidential Debate
Date:    September 29, 2020, Tuesday
Time:   9:00pm - 10:30pm ET
Location:   Cleveland, Ohio
Host:  Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic Health Education Campus
Moderator:   Chris Wallace, Fox News anchor
Candidates:  Former Vice President and Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump

In Pew Research Center surveys conducted since 1988, three-fifths or more of voters say the debates were very or somewhat helpful in deciding which candidate to vote for. The high point was 1992, when 70% of voters said the three-way debates that year between Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot were at least somewhat helpful.

The first televised VP debate between Senator Walter Mondale (D) and Senator Robert Dole (R) in 1976

2020 Vice Presidential Debate
Date:    October 7, 2020, Wednesday
Time:    9:00pm - 10:30pm ET
Location:   Salt Lake City, Utah
Host:   University of Utah
Moderator:   Susan Page, USA Today Washington Bureau Chief
Candidates:   US Senator and Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence

Debates, however, are not the determining factor for most voters. In 2016 only 10% of voters said they had definitively made up their minds "during or just after" the presidential debates. By comparison, 11% said they'd made up their minds in the days or weeks on or just before Election Day, 22% during or just after the party conventions, and 42% before the conventions.

The October 2, 1980 debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan drew 80 million viewers out of a population of 226 million

2020 Second Presidential Debate
Date:    October 15, 2020, Thursday
Time:    9:00pm - 10:30pm ET
Location:   Miami, Florida
Host:   Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
Moderator:   Steve Scully, Senior Executive Producer and Political Editor at the C-SPAN Networks
Candidates:   Former Vice President and Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump

Regardless of their impact on the outcome of elections, debates attract more viewers than any other televised event outside of the Super Bowl.

According to Nielsen Media Research, the first 2016 debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump drew a record 84 million television viewers, but that figure does not include online streaming or CSPAN viewers. By comparison, the final nights of the parties' 2016 conventions attracted fewer than 35 million viewers each.

First Trump-Clinton debate is the most-watched of all time with 84 million viewers, not including online streaming (ABC)

2020 Third Presidential Debate

Date:    October 22, 2020, Thursday
Time:    9:00pm - 10:30pm ET
Location:   Nashville, Tennessee
Host:   Belmont University
Moderator:   Kristen Welker, Co-Anchor of NBC's "Weekend TODAY" and a NBC News White House correspondent
Candidates:   Former Vice President and Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump

This viewership for the final night of the 2020 political conventions, including broadcast and cable networks, was under 25 million, with 23.81 million watchers for the GOP and 24.60 million turning on the tube for Democrats'.

Although a drop from 2016, it is an unlikely gage of voter interest in seeing the first head-to-head historic match up between Joe Biden and Donald Trump on September 29th.

DemList will be watching and, as always, will keep you informed.

Have a safe and enjoyable Holiday Weekend!

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Kimberly Scott
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