History Lesson: Past Debates

Who: John Anderson, an Independent, and Republican Ronald Reagan. Where: Baltimore, Md. Moderator: Bill Moyers as moderator, plus a panel including Carol Loomis, Daniel Greenberg, Charles Cordray, Lee May, Jane Bryant and Soma Golden. Format: 2 ½-minute responses; 1 ¼-minute rebuttals; 3-minute closing statements. Sponsors: League of Women Voters, with NBC and CBS.

October 28, 1980

Who: Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Reagan Where: Cleveland, Ohio Moderator: Howard Smith as moderator, plus a panel including Marvin Stone, Harry Ellis, William Hilliard and Barbara Walters. Format: 2-minute responses; 1-minute rebuttals; 3-minute closing statements. Sponsors: LWV, with ABC, NBC and CBS Ratings: 80.6 million viewers (highest ever)

During the Carter-Reagan debate, Reagan uttered the now-famous “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Carter emphasized arms control and accused Reagan of “insensitivity” on domestic economic issues, and of “belligerence” in military policy. Reagan said that he wanted to “take government off the backs” of the people by reducing taxes and government spending. The only exchange between Reagan and Carter proved to be the highest rated presidential debate in history according to Nielson Media Research.

1984 Election

President Ronald Reagan went into the 1984 debates with a substantial lead over his opponent former-Vice President Walter Mondale.

October 7, 1984

Who: Reagan and Mondale Where: Louisville, Ky. Moderator: Barbara Walters as moderator, plus a panel including James Wieghart, Diane Sawyer and Fred Barnes. Format: 2 ½-minute responses; 1-minute rebuttals; 4-minute closing statements Sponsors: League of Women Voters, ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS Ratings: 65.1 million viewers

Reviews of Reagan’s first debate performance in Louisville concluded that Mondale performed better than the seemingly uncomfortable and nervous incumbent. Voter surveys conducted immediately after the debate found that Mondale either had an edge or the two candidates were basically tied. But that changed dramatically the next day, when news outlets reported that a Michigan State University professor had questioned Reagan’s fitness for the presidency because of his age, using examples from Reagan’s debate performance the night before. Surveys conduced AFTER this news broke found that voters rated Mondale as the winner by a four-to-one ratio.

Ocotber 11, 1984

Who: Vice-Presidential Debate — Republican candidate George Bush and Democratic candidate Geraldine Ferraro Where: Philadelphia, Pa. Moderator: Sandra Vanocur as moderator, plus a panel including John Mashek, Jack White, Norma Quarles and Robert Boyd. Format: 2 ½-minute responses; 1-minute rebuttals; 4-minute closing statements Sponsors: LWV and ABC, NBC and CBS Ratings: 56.7 million viewers

Vice-presidential candidates Bush and Ferraro, then a Democratic congresswoman from New York, met for one televised debate and disagreed on a wide range of issues. Bush repeatedly stressed his experience; Ferraro charged Republicans with belligerence on arms control and for unfair policies toward the poor and disadvantaged. At one point, Ferraro warned Bush not to “patronize” her after he offered to explain the difference between the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran and the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Lebanon. At a campaign rally the next day, Bush was overheard on an open mike saying he “kicked a little ass” in the debate.

October 21, 1984

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