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History of Debates

America has a rich tradition of presidential debates. However, there has been a lack of consistency as we have experienced varying types of debates with different formats, length, and design throughout the years.

One of the most well-known formats is the Lincoln-Douglas, which started in 1858. These debates typically lasted three hours, in which one candidate would speak for one hour, the other candidate would speak for an hour and a half, and then the first would speak again for a half hour.

Another prominent debate format from the history of America includes the 1948 Stassen/Dewey debate. This was transmitted over the radio and was limited to one hour, but the entire debate was limited to one issue. This single issue that consumed the Stassen/Dewey debate was outlawing the Communist Party in the United States.

In the years that followed, debates followed no consistent format or sponsorship. Some debates were hosted by the League of Women Voters, others would be exclusively covered by large networks such as ABC, CBS, and NBC. The State Debate Coalition aims to provide consistency and structure that has been missing from recent American politics.

Problems with Current Debate Models

There are several issues when modern public debates are not mediated by an unbiased commission. These issues include the following:

Too Many Candidates
When there are too many candidates, result in each candidate only having a few minutes to share their perspective, which negatively impacts the public. Citizens do not gain much information about any one candidate.

Too Lengthy Debates
Debates with too many candidates are lengthy and require too much time-commitment from the public. The public often loses interest, which is detrimental to the public as well as it wastes the time and efforts of the candidates.

Too Much Power in the Candidates' Hands
In many debates today, candidates are able to demand conditions from the media, civic organizations, and other groups sponsoring debates. With this power, they are able to manipulate debates according to their interests rather than the interests of the public as they can threaten to withdraw participation at any point before the debate should they not get their way.