Everything You Need to Know About the First Presidential Debate

The first presidential debate between Democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump is just one week away. While early voting has already begun in some states, many Americans won’t vote until closer to Election Day, leaving the debates open to be informative, and in some cases, a deciding factor for undecided voters. Before we get into the importance of watching debates this season, here’s a quick look at the details

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First presidential debate: 

When: Tuesday, September 29, 2020, 9-10:30 p.m. Eastern

Location: Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. 

Where to watch: You can watch the debate on every major cable network as well as streaming, with CBS, ABC, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox, Fox News, NBC, MSNBC and more.

Moderator: Chris Wallace, anchor of “Fox News Sunday”

Details: The debate will last 90 minutes with no commercial breaks. Six 15-minute segments will be guided by the moderator. Wallace will begin with a question, each candidate will have two minutes to answer followed by further discussion as lead by the moderator. The topics will be announced prior to the debate.

A Brief History of Debates

Today, candidate debates are considered a fundamental part of the election process, but the presidential debates as we know them were not held until 1960. Earlier debates, such as those in 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and then-Senator Stephen Douglas laid important groundwork for what we know today. These were true, face-to-face debates, with no moderator. The candidates took turns to open each debate with a 60-minute speech, then the other candidate had 90 minutes to rebut, and finally, the first candidate closed the debate with a 30-minute response.

Fast forward to 1960, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in the first televised presidential debate. Prior to the event, Nixon was considered to be the favorite. However, because of his unfamiliarity with televised debates, and his nervous demeanor and makeup-free face, Nixon looked pale in comparison to the youthful and energetic JFK. Historians generally agree that this televised appearance was a turning point in the election. Since then, the importance of these debates has continued to grow. 

Importance of the debates:

While some question the value of debates, for many, they are a crucial step in deciding which candidate will receive their vote. Think about it this way, it’s unlikely that anyone would be hired without an interview. Hiring considerations never just include the candidate’s resume and social media feed, there’s always an interview. So think of the debates as a series of presidential job interviews. 

As millions of young Americans are eligible to vote for the first time, many will be watching the debates in a new light. Whether you’re watching as an undecided voter or simply looking to confirm your choice make sure to use each debate as 90 minutes to evaluate candidates’ performance, develop follow-up questions you may want to research and take notes on personality, character, policies and ideas.  

Make a plan to tune in on Tuesday, September 29 at 6:00 p.m. PT/ 9:00 p.m. ET and mark your calendar for the three subsequent debates. Biden's running mate, Kamala Harris, will debate Vice President Mike Pence on Oct. 7. Two more presidential debates are set after that, for Oct. 15 and Oct. 22.

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