President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden meet tonight in the first of three debates before Election Day. The audience will be huge—possibly 100 million people will watch on television and streaming services and listen on the radio.
The numbers could eclipse the first Trump-Hillary Clinton debate of 2016 that was the most watched presidential debate ever with 84 million viewers. The second most-watched was the Jimmy Carter-Ronald Regan debate in 1980 with almost 81 million viewers.
The myriad methods of following the debate and the increasing politicization of news coverage means Americans can view the debate more subjectively, reports Michael Grynbaum of the New York Times.
“A fragmented news media means that many voters will consume the Biden-Trump clash through a preferred, possibly biased, lens, be it partisan cable news stations, custom-tailored social media feeds or online outlets that cater to their ideological tribes, Grynbaum reported.
That dynamic, combined with the sizeable locked-in support for each candidate, suggests that most of tonight’s viewers will be cheering on their own choice rather than looking for help making up their minds.
A recent NBC News/WSJ Poll has Biden ahead by 8 points among registered voters, 51 percent to 43 percent. The poll shows that close to 90 percent have firmly made up their minds, and that seven-in-ten believe the upcoming debates aren’t that important in deciding their vote.”
So, why watch at all?
Dr. Gregory Noone, professor of political science and law at Fairmont State University, said on Talkline Monday that the debate should be entertaining. Donald Trump, whether you love him or hate him, is unpredictable, and that makes for must-see TV.
“What will Donald Trump do next? How will Joe Biden respond?” said Noone.
Tonight’s moderator, Fox News host Chris Wallace, wants to ensure that he is NOT the center of attention. “My job is to be as invisible as possible,” Wallace said during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “I’m trying to get them to engage, to focus on the key issues, to give people at home a sense of, ‘why I want to vote for one versus the other.’”
The pressure tonight will be enormous. The history of presidential debates has an entire chapter on gaffes and well-timed one-liners that stood out. Reagan nailed Carter with the catchphrase, “There you go again.” Gerald Ford stumbled in the debate with Carter when he claimed Eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination.
Maybe there will be another one of those moments tonight. It is 90 minutes of live television so there is always the potential for an unforced error that is just damaging enough to put doubt in the minds of undecided voters about that person’s ability to hold the highest office in the land.
I will be watching tonight, and I suspect many of you will be too. We will get together tomorrow on Talkline and see what you thought.