Adam Smith Blog

A record audience is expected to watch tonight’s presidential debate

SOME 100m people are expected to tune in to the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tonight, according to industry analysts. That would make it the most watched presidential slugfest to date.

Such spectacles have always drawn huge numbers of viewers. The first televised debate, between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960, was watched by 70m people. Kennedy had told his aides that the debates were “the one way to break through” in what was a tight race. At first Nixon said no (actually, “No damned debates!”) but eventually relented. The debate highlighted the growing importance of television in politics: Nixon was deemed by radio listeners to be the better candidate, but those watching on TV felt he had performed badly, which some political pundits say lost him the election. With Nixon’s poor performance in mind Lyndon Johnson decided not to debate Barry Goldwater in 1964 and risk denting his big lead in the polls (Johnson was ahead by 65% to 29% in mid-September). Nixon ruled out debates when he was…Continue reading

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