It’s time to end presidential debates — forever – By Dylan Matthews (VOX) / Oct 15 2020
At least in the general election, they’re a vector for misinformation and don’t seem to meaningfully inform voters.
Last Friday, the Commission on Presidential Debates officially canceled the second presidential debate of the 2020 general election, originally scheduled for Thursday, October 15. The cancellation was caused by President Trump’s refusal to debate remotely (despite his positive test for Covid-19). According to Newton Minow, a member of the debate commission and one of the negotiators behind the first televised debates in 1960, the cancellation’s real victim was American democracy.
“In seven decades of televised presidential debates, this is the first debate to be canceled,” he told the New York Times. “The loser is the American voter.”
Minow is being a bit cute here. In 1964, 1968, and 1972, debates were not canceled — because they were not held at all. And while there is little doubt that the 1960 debates he helped negotiate for John F. Kennedy were a watershed moment for television as a medium and for popular democracy more generally, they happened 60 years ago. Telecommunications has changed dramatically, and so has politics.
Plenty of observers called for canceling the remaining debates after the embarrassing first confrontation between Trump and Joe Biden. (They almost got their wish. After being canceled, the second debate ended up being replaced by dueling Thursday town halls.) But I would argue that we should give up on presidential debates, period. Debates can still provide useful information on Senate or governor’s candidates, or in primary elections. But there is no reason to think, in 2020, that televised debates between major-party presidential nominees provide any real value to voters.