Friday, May 04, 2007
Let's Introduce Televised Debates for Party leaders Over Here Too
Probably the most famous televised political debate was the Kennedy -Nixon affair in 1960(pictured). Here Nixon was believed by car radio listeners to have shaded the contest but the greater number watching the little box saw Kennedy's film star profile, compared it with Nixon's dodgy five o'clock shadow and had no doubt as to who had won. Even allowing for the distortions of image makers, however, I think it would be good for our democracy to introduce televised debates.
Possibly one would have been allowed by Blair in 1997 had he been behind in the polls instead of miles ahead. As it was, he turned down Major's request for such a debate, presumably on the grounds that it would allow too much publicity to an opponent. A head to head confrontation would stimulate interest in a democracy which, at times in this country, can appear moribund. It would also show how Cameron performs under real pressure instead of the formalised rituals of the Commons. As for Gordon, it would give him a chance to unveil his formidable intellect and mastery of policy detail for the electorate to judge if he deserves to be elected prime minister rather than merely inherit the title for his erstwhile neighbour and rival.
Also interesting to note that in the US just over a week ago there was a televised debate between 8 candidates from the same party for leadership of the party (OK, I know, it's not technically that but you get my point). Quite a contrast with how Labour & Tory choose their 'man at the helm'?
Not wholly sure it's just politics nerds who are impressed with a confident or even masterful demeanour in such situations. It's possible to spot competence even if you are not that clued up on something oneself; eg my present doctor seems clearly more competent than my last yet I am ignorant of medicine.
It was done by questionable social science back in the 60s and if you read the excellent "Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV" it gets quite thoroughly debunked.
Also you could check out:
Vancil, D. L., & Pendell, S. D. (1987).
The myth of viewer-listener disagreement in the first Kennedy-Nixon debate.
Central States Speech Journal, 38, 16-27
I bow to your knowledge on this one; I was just accepting received wisdom- often a dangerous thing to do.
I was in France on the day of their first round and watched some of the results programmes. What a contrast with ours! No fancy graphics, no Peter Snow with his swingometer, just a lot of fairly serious debate. Frustratingly I couldn't understand much of it and the lack of graphics meant waiting ages to find out who had made it into round 2! They do things differently over there, let's hope whoever wins doesn't try to make them as British-like as they've both threatened...
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