On In People & Politics

This Is How The US Presidential Debates Transformed From 1936 To 2017

The first US presidential election debate was televised in 1960 between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The televised debates are a quintessential part of American politics as they have occupied a significant place in the history of television. Given the power that the United States of America enjoys, the presidential debate has a global audience. However, there is a visible difference between the debates of yesteryears and that of today. Let us take a look at how these debates evolved.

John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon during the first televised presidential debate

More than 65 years have passed since the first Presidential debate was telecast, but the charm still remains. Every time around the election season, there are interesting incidents that take place, either pertaining to the candidate or otherwise, in general, that attracts the attention of the viewers worldwide.

CBS Studio, Chicago, 1960.

On September 26, 1960, John FKennedy and Richard Nixon faced the camera at CBS Studio in Chicago, marking the year as the first televised presidential election debate in the history of American politics. In the first-ever Presidential debate, two candidates met their voters face-to-face. Categorised as the “Great Debates”, the meetings between the candidate and voters was telecast on television.

People watching the first televised presidential election debate

For the first time in American history, the candidates came out to speak “face-to-face” with the American citizens who watched the debates from homes. The television debate dominated the political campaigns of the time. Before the use of the television, the candidates relied on radio.

Franklin D Roosevelt on whistle-stop train during election campaigning, 1936

Much before the radio and televised debates, the first technologies that were used to impact the election campaigning of the candidates was the locomotives. In 1936, Franklin D Roosevelt, the only American President to serve four consecutive terms, campaigned on a whistle-stop train at Bismarck in North Dakota. Known for leading America through the Great Depression, Roosevelt led a military alliance that defeated Nazi Germany.

Image promoting the use of Twitter

With the passage of time, as technology advanced, the ways of campaigning changed. Starting with the television in the 1960's, the American presidential debates today have a massive reach – courtesy social media. The number and types of media sources have expanded, serving as the available platforms for campaigning. 

Trump's Twitter page during 2016 Election campaign

Donald J Trump was the first presidential candidate to enthusiastically use Twitter. With the advent of the internet, campaigning for elections is far reaching. The technological advances in each period of history had an influence on the elections of those times.

Role of social media in politics  

The technological advancements have demerits. There is more noise and less content, compared to the old times. Unlike its predecessors, Twitter has both, a positive and negative role to play in election campaigning. Kerric Harvey, author of the Encyclopaedia of Social Media and Politics, while commenting about the use of Twitter said, " What we do on Twitter around politics isn’t a conversation at all; it’s a loud mess."

Donald Trump on television

As the medium of communication has transformed, so has the US Presidential campaigns – from the Whistle Stop-Train in 1930's to the first television campaign by President John F. Kennedy in the 60's to the current us of Twitter by President Donald J Trump in 2016.How will the technology progress further and keep pace with the demands of evolving strategies? One will have to wait and watch.