To Understand The Spectacle Of Presidential Debates, Look Back To 1960, Says Harvard HistorianHistorians in the News
tags: Richard Nixon, presidential history, John F. Kennedy, debates
The two presidential debates between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, which occurred earlier this month, continued a long tradition in American politics that began 60 years ago, when Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy appeared in the first-ever televised debate in 1960. Fred Logevall, Professor of History at Harvard University and author of JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956, joined Joe Mathieu on “Morning Edition” to break down how modern presidential debates compare to those of the past.
“I think both candidates, even in 1960, understood this could be something really big,” Logevall said. “Even then, they thought it could be a game-changer.” And they were. Approximately 75 million people tuned in to watch that first debate between Nixon and Kennedy. The narrative that emerged was that Kennedy won among viewers who watched on TV, while Nixon won among those who listened on the radio.
“On television, Kennedy’s youthfulness, this demeanor that he had on the set, the fact that he was crisp and clear in his responses, I think made a difference among voters,” Logevall said. “Many of whom didn’t know that much about him.”