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A Bit of Presidential Debate History

03 Oct 2012

A Bit of Presidential Debate History

A few interesting data points about Prez debates…

— The first modern presidential debate was between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960 (and not again until 1976).

— Debates can matter. And, in many ways, seem to be riskier for incumbents, even though conventional wisdom says that an incumbent has an advantage, bringing the weight of the presidency with him to the stage.

 Since 1976 – when debates started to be held every presidential election cycle – three incumbents have been defeated: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush. In contrast, just two incumbents – William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover – lost their reelection bids in the first three-quarters of the 20th century.

— A few game-changer debate moments in previous Presidential debates — Michael Dukakis’s all-policy response when asked whether he’d seek the death penalty for someone who raped and murdered his wife, cementing his “wooden image.” And then there’s the famous Reagan comment to Jimmy Carter when he said, “There you go again,” creating what became a defining phrase of the 1980 election.

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