Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2010

Capstone Advisor

Professor Margaret Susan Thompson

Honors Reader

Professor Danny Hayes

Capstone Major

Political Science

Capstone College

Citizenship and Public Affairs

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories

American Politics | Political Science | Political Theory


This Capstone Project focuses on the entire history of televised presidential debates in America. Beginning with the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 and ending with the Obama-McCain debates of 2008, I examine and analyze academic books, articles and data in order to answer several questions: Did the American public continue to tune in to televised debate for information throughout the years? Have the debates lost their ability to maintain interest, change or affect electoral outcomes, or help inform the masses of the actual policies and promises of the candidates? Have the advances in technology and media had any effect on these issues? My thesis is that audiences have grown increasingly uninterested in debates, with evidence that both viewership totals and household percentages tuning into debates have decreased over time.

In addition to the historical research, my own contribution to the thesis is an original formatting of the debates. I break down the history into four distinct Ages, with each Age representing significant changes in how televised debates were structured and how advancements in technology and new media affected viewer interest. I then use this information in regard to the 2008 debates (the beginning of the Fourth Age) to show how technological distractions, satirical comedy, overuse of primary debates prior to the general election debates and the multitude of other television stations not covering the debates have contributed to viewer disinterest. I conclude my work with several suggestions as to how debates can improve to regain voter interest: limits should be set on the number of primary debates allowed to occur; Internet sites such as YouTube should be further utilized in the general election coverage; and greater emphasis should be placed on the media in getting the public to tune into the debates.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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