Effect of Television Presidential Debate on Elections

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Through the introduction of television into the sphere of elections, it has been more accessible for Americans all over the country to have easier access to events and people. Although the participation of citizens in elections has risen because of this, the introduction of television has not had a completely positive impact. Since 1960, the introduction of the TV has created a negative impact on presidential elections as it shifted the focus of candidates explaining their stances on issues to focusing on their physical appearance on the screen. Broadcasting stations have the ability to manipulate what is shown on television as well by cutting bits and pieces together, which can greatly impact the opinions of those who are watching. With the introduction of televisions into politics, there has been a negative impact on those who are watching because of the focus on appearance and the possible manipulation in what they are watching.

Through the introduction of televisions in elections, it is evident that presidential candidates focus more on their image rather than their issues they stand by. People focus more on the physical presentation of candidates, causing debates and political campaigns to be less focused on the important values of each person. By improving one’s image, they can gain more support. This is seen in a presidential candidate in the election of 1992, “…Bill Clinton discussed his underwear with the American people… he had been asked to do so by a member of the MTV generation, not because he felt a sudden need to purge himself’ (Hart and Triece).

By exposing such intimate information with the public, he was able to gain more followers by appealing to the “MTV generation”, not with the political values Clinton stood by, but with his image (Hart and Triece). In the first debate ever aired on television, the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960, “People who listened to the debates on the radio…scored it a draw; people who watched it thought that…Kennedy had crushed Nixon” (Menand). By watching the candidates on a screen, viewers said that Kennedy had the advantage of looking “crisp” whereas Nixon’s “wrong makeup and bad posture” made his image less appealing (Menand). The better looking candidate gained more supporters than the lesser attractive one.

A candidate’s image is judged extremely carefully, sometimes more than the issues they stand by it is evident that “…Presidents are losing their distinctiveness as social actors and hence are often judged by standards formerly used to assess rock singers and movie stars” (Hart and Triece). Celebrities in the entertainment industry heavily base their popularity and image on how they are presented to the world, and slowly, but surely, presidential candidates are joining this group of people. The introduction of television had a negative impact by influencing certain voters to base their vote solely on how a candidate is presented with their image, rather than with political values.

Television can easily manipulate viewers’ minds to believe or have certain opinions based on the way something is broadcasted. Many times, events are edited and are not shown in full, often altering the information that was presented at that event. This has a negative impact on elections because even though it may make the program more fun to watch, it can change a person’s view on a candidate based on something that was not shown in full truth.

Newscaster Ted Koppel wrote that a presidential debate they aired was a “joke” in actuality, but “Because we were able to pull the best three or four minutes out of the ninety-minute event, Nightline made the whole thing look pretty good” (Koppel). This shows that the interesting and captivating parts are only pulled out of a debate to be aired on television to attract watchers, and really do not show everything that went on. Because of the short showing of the truth, viewers base their opinions on candidates with only what they see. Another way television can impact what viewers think is shown through influential people contradicting presidents on TV.

In 1968, “…President Johnson was still holding fast to the policy that the [Vietnam] war could and must be won… Cronkite [a news broadcaster] reported that the war had become a bloody stalemate and that military victory was not in the cards” (Ranney). In a poll, it was shown that “the American people trusted Walter Cronkite more” to tell the straight up truth than anyone else, and so with his statement on TV, Cronkite caused many voters to turn away their vote for President Johnson’s re-election (Ranney). Anything shown or broadcasted on television has a negative impact to presidential candidates for it is trusted by watchers to be true, when in reality, the use of editing can easily manipulate the truth of what is shown.

Television has negatively impacted presidential elections since the introduction of it in 1960. Candidates become focused with their image and how they are seen, which takes away from the purpose of presidential debate: to speak of their stances on political issues. Television can alter a person’s opinion on a candidate through programs that are edited and do not show a debate in full. It is important for American people to focus more on the values each candidate stands with rather than their physical image, and must be careful to not be influenced by edited programs on television that could be showing events not in full truth.


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Effect of Television Presidential Debate on Elections. (2021, Jul 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/effect-of-television-presidential-debate-on-elections/

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