(ConservativeUnit.com)- Presidential debates may feel like a recent thing, but they existed long before television. In fact, the debates date back to seven senatorial debates in Illinois between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln in 1858. These early debates didn’t have a panel or a moderator – something a lot of people would probably like to see implemented in modern debates – and they came about because of Lincoln following Douglas around on the campaign.
Whenever Douglas gave a speech, Lincoln would give a speech in the days following on the same topic. Eventually, Douglas agreed to debate Lincoln seven times, for three hours during each debate. Ultimately, Douglas won the seat.
Then, for around fifteen elections, candidates didn’t debate one another. Speeches remained separate until, in 1948, the widespread use of radio prompted debates to return. The first radio debate was held between Thomas Dewey and Harold Stassen, two Republicans battling to win a primary. Up to 80 million people tuned in to hear the debate, and yet for some reason, debates still took several years to become popular.
It was only in 1952 that the first televised debate took place, featuring all presidential candidates. And, once the Kennedy Nixon series of debates were held, they became a fixture of every election since. Now, every single election, presidential candidates take part in televised debates. Those debates are run and managed by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
What’s more, candidates from all other elections take place in debates too. It has become one of the most important parts of the campaign, giving the voting public an opportunity to see what the candidates are like when put in tough situations and made to answer difficult questions.
The debate system and media coverage of candidates in the United States works differently than in many other countries. In the United Kingdom, debates only really became popular from 2010 onwards. Before that, there were no regular televised debates between candidates vying to become Prime Minister.
What’s more, the Communications Act of 1934 was repealed by President Nixon, meaning media outlets were no longer required to give equal exposure to candidates. This is what resulted in partisan media, with some outlets favoring one candidate over another, and giving favorable coverage when they see fit.
Debates are a fixture in American politics, and becoming popular across the rest of the world too.