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Opinion: The modern presidential debate is useless for informing voters


During every presidential cycle, the debates between the Democratic and Republican candidates are closely watched. Some believe that the candidates’ performances during these debates can reflect who will be the next president. This has been the typical pattern, but this year, everything is different. The presidential debates during the 2020 election cycle were pointless, as voters have already made up their minds and very little policy was actually discussed. 

Debate season kicked off when Joe Biden and Donald Trump went head to head at Case Western Reserve University on September 29. This debate is notorious for the lack of useful content, as the candidates filled the time with petty insults and interruptions. Because of their lack of respect for each other, they talked about almost nothing valuable policy-wise.

Aidan Pappas, senior at Wadsworth High School, enjoys following American politics. He watched every debate this year in order to form his own opinion about who he should vote for. He found the interruptions during the first debate to be distracting.

“I think that the candidates were interrupting a lot because they were offended by what their opponent had to say and simply could not resist,” said Pappas.

This kind of retort from a presidential candidate is absolutely unacceptable. Both candidates were ruthless and childish during their first debate, and their behavior can turn off potential voters. They were not being the role models that they should have been.

Sam Zulia, alumnus and speech and debate coach at Wadsworth High School, agrees that the first debate was most definitely memorable.

“It was unlike any other debate I can remember in recent years,” said Zulia. “It stood out for a number of reasons. The main reason being the amount of chaos between the candidates and the moderator. The chaos distracted the viewers from what was actually being said by the candidates.”

Because of this behavior, Zulia believes that the first debate was ineffective. He also credits the amount of publicity of this election to the debate’s lack of usefulness.

“My personal belief is that with the presidential race starting earlier and earlier and it alway being in the news cycle, many voters already know how they are leaning,” said Zulia. “I don’t think that many Americans were swayed by the candidates’ behavior.”

Though the final debate between the candidates on October 22 proved to be less interruption heavy, there was still very little policy discussed. Both candidates tended to avoid the questions pointed at them. Donald Trump especially uses this method, as he prefers to glorify himself and his achievements rather than discuss future policy. These attitudes again contribute to the lack of effectiveness of the presidential debates.

Pappas again weighs in on the 2020 debates, stating that they were purely entertainment rather than informative. Because of this, voters were not properly educated on each candidate’s policies.

“No issues were discussed, the candidates can’t even argue their opponent’s position because they just make it up completely,” said Pappas. “Trump’s comments on Biden’s position on fracking are a good example.”

Because of his experience as a speech and debate coach, Zulia is able to evaluate the speaking skills of the candidates. He identifies one candidate as a better public speaker than the other.

“I believe that Joe Biden has better public speaking skills,” explained Zulia. “While Donald Trump is certainly charismatic, it does not follow a structure and is delivered as a stream of consciousness. I think a structured speaking style is better in a public speaking/debate setting.”

Speaking skills are essential in politics, as politicians must be able to think on their feet and convey their views effectively. Trump focuses his speaking more upon shock value rather than actual skill, placing him below Biden when it comes to communicating effectively.

“If I were to give them advice is to monitor and correct nonverbal communication,” said Zulia. “At times, I think both candidates react to what the other is saying in a way that pushes the other to escalate the rhetoric. The other advice would be to remain on topic, answer the questions, and remain an active listener during the debate.”

Because of the avoidance of questions by both candidates, viewers were left in the dark as to what their individual policies actually are. This would require undecided voters to research the candidate on their own, which is just an extra step that some are unwilling to take. In order to guarantee a high voter turnout, the presidential candidates should focus on policies in order to educate voters rather than using their time to insult each other.

The lack of productivity of these debates raises the question of if debates are even necessary, as debates such as the ones that occurred this year were anything but informative. Pappas believes that they should continue regardless of their effectiveness.

“The candidates need to have their positions challenged in an actual conversation,” argued Pappas.

A new kind of politics have been ushered in by Donald Trump. Being brash and ruthless is now seen as admirable. The debates allow Trump to have an even larger platform to the American people. Because of this new attitude, the presidential debates have become almost completely useless.

President Trump and his opponent, Vice President Joe Biden, squared off in the final Presidential Debate of the 2020 Election on October 22. Photo courtesy of Fair Use from a live national broadcast of the debate
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Opinion: The modern presidential debate is useless for informing voters