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FBF: The First Presidential Debate



Photo Courtesy of cnn.com

Article by Sophie Bookheimer

On Monday, the first presidential debate of the 2016 election aired and the heartbeat of the nation was pulsating with full force as people tuned in. In anticipation of this event, people all across the nation turned on the television, opened up their phones, logged onto their computers, or tuned into whatever they could to access the news. Remarkably, Americans were feeling the same excitement fifty-six years ago as they prepared for the first ever televised debate in the nation’s history.

Before there were iPhones, social media, and computers everywhere, there were fewer options for candidates to communicate to masses. However, this was all changed after September 26, 1960 when Americans turned on their televisions eager to witness the two presidential candidates, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, speak to the nation in the first televised debate.

Since then, campaign tactics underwent a dramatic shift in focus to include a larger audience. According to a History.com article, a poll estimated that nearly half of all of the voters at the time were influenced by the debate they witnessed on television. Six percent of those voters relied only on the debate to choose their candidate.

After witnessing the success of television in influencing voters, campaigns began the continual process of modernizing in an effort to reach as many individuals as possible. Even today, campaigns go to great lengths to include modern means of communication. Nearly all forms of social media and news sources are utilized to reach to as large of an audience as possible.

Last Monday, fifty-six years after this momentous achievement, the nation witnessed another televised presidential debate. However, the recent debate involves a significant historical meaning. At this time in 1960, American involvement in politics was limited to indirect ties, and very few direct ties, to politics such as what they read or heard from others. Politics today includes the filtered and unfiltered, as people have live access to the activities of their candidates as well as newer and faster means of communication.

In the time that has passed since the first televised debate, Americans have witnessed hardship and triumph, life and loss, and everything in between. Among the nation’s victories are significant technological advancements that allow individuals to make political contributions with ease. Each step in the pursuit of success has been accompanied by promising developments in transparency of government.

While people on all forms of communication watched and reacted to the debate, history was being made. Despite the outcome of the debate, individuals on all parts of the political spectrum can delight in the fact that society is more involved than ever in politics and America has come a long way from the day individuals everywhere observed the first televised debate in the country’s history.