Comment and Analysis

Ten things about presidential debates

Mail & Guardian Correspondent

The US debate tradition began in 1858 when, during the senatorial campaign, Abraham Lincoln challenged an opponent from the audience.

The first televised US presidential debate, featuring all the contenders from both parties, was in 1952. (AFP)

1. It was reported this week that Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille had challenged President Jacob Zuma to a public debate on the state of South Africa. The president declined.

2.  The televised debates between the United States's presidential contenders, ahead of the November ­election, are under way. The first was on October 3, the second took place on October 16 and the third will be on October 22.

3. The US has a nonpartisan commission on presidential debates to organise such events.

4. Republican contender Mitt Romney was deemed to have won the first debate, giving a vigorous performance against a tired, lacklustre Democrat President Barack Obama. Romney had received much debate coaching. Obama came back strongly in the second debate and was deemed to have won it.

5. The vice-presidential candidates debated on October 11. Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan argued about the Republican promise to reduce taxes for the rich. Ryan asserted that President John F Kennedy had reduced high marginal tax rates in 1961 and thereby stimulated the economy. "Oh," retorted Biden, "now you're Jack Kennedy?" ABC News reported that soon thereafter Twitter "erupted" with more than 58 000 tweets a minute.

6. The US debate tradition began in 1858 when, during the senatorial campaign for the state of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln challenged opponent Stephen Douglas from the audience. This later led to a three-hour debate on slavery between the two, with no moderator or panel. Douglas won the seat, but Lincoln won the presidency two years later.

7. A 1948 radio debate about outlawing communism in the US between two Republican presidential hopefuls was heard by as many as 80-million listeners.

8. The first televised US presidential debate, featuring all the contenders from both parties, was in 1952.

9. The debates between Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 riveted the US. Nixon came off badly, looking "shifty". He refused to debate again during his successful 1968 presidential campaign.

10. The last time a third-party candidate engaged in a US presidential debate was in 1992 when independent Ross Perot took part.

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