GP Insights

GP Insights # 420, 4 October 2020

The US: The First Presidential Debate
Vivek Mishra

What happened?
On 29 September, President Trump and Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden had a heated exchange on the first of three Presidential Debates in Cleveland, Ohio where they squared off on several topics. The debate touched upon various issues which are igniting the Presidential race including the vacant Supreme Court seat, COVID-19, the ongoing protests against racial inequality, healthcare, climate change and mail-in ballots. This was the first of three debates scheduled ahead of the US elections on 3 November 2020. The debate was chaotic and was criticized world over. The moderator of the debate - Chris Wallace of the Fox News was seen struggling to control the debate which was largely filled by interruptions from President Trump. Joe Biden has asked the Commission on Presidential Debates to find a way to control the number of interruptions at future debates, and said the way Trump conducted himself at the debate was a "national embarrassment". 

The most noticeable and discussed line coming out of the debate has been Joe Biden's rather frustrating retort to Trump's constant hectoring and interruptions, "Will you shut up, man?". An estimated 73 million viewers followed the first Presidential debate.

What is the background?
First, the US Presidential debates are a series of three moderated debates that follow the party conventions of the two political parties contesting US elections, where they declare their party's Presidential nominee. The debate is organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which sponsors televised debates for the benefit of the American electorate. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is a nonprofit corporation established in 1987 under the joint sponsorship of the Democratic and Republican political parties in the United States. The CPD sponsors and produces debates for U.S. presidential and vice-presidential candidates. 

Second, the debates between the two running Presidential mates provides a good opportunity for the electorate to assess various factors which are decisive in the election as well as each candidate's record or political stand on those issues. In total, the CPD will sponsor four debates, three between the Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden and one debate between Vice Presidential candidates, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris. 

What does it mean?
The United States Commission on Presidential Debates has said it would make changes to the debate format after the first debate proved to be chaotic and full of interruptions. This has given rise to a debate within the United States Commission on Presidential Debates on the possible move to gag candidates. The Republican Party has criticized the prospective move, even as Trump has claimed to have won the first debate. However, Biden has been ahead of Trump in most national polls since the start of the year and is currently leading in major battleground states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where the Republicans won in 2016.

The next Presidential debate is expected to take place on 15 October in Miami, followed by 22 October 2020. The next debate is a town hall format where real voters are going to have the chance to engage the candidate. Besides, the Vice Presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris will be held on 7 October 2020. However, uncertainties remain after the President tested positive for the Coronavirus. 

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