While the first presidential debate could be seen as a waste of time, the vice presidential debate offered an opportunity for American citizens to hear policy ideas and platforms from the nation’s current and perhaps future number twos.
Although this debate was informative and covered a wide variety of issues – including the Trump administration’s approach to COVID-19, foreign policy, and the future use of natural gas – arguably the most notable thing to come from this broadcast was the memes. From re-creations of the debate on Saturday Night Live to countless posts about the fly stuck on Vice President Mike Pence’s head, the American people seemed to know and care more about the jokes circling the internet than the policies and agendas discussed.
This raises the following question: Do the American people appreciate and take advantage of debates? While there is nothing that can be done about train wrecks like the first presidential debate, it seems as though our everyday citizens choose to be more informed about the ridiculous aspects of each discussion, rather than important decisions and plans being discussed for our nation. Although there are many people out there who pay attention to and educate themselves on the goings-on in our country, it is not the norm.
Debates are supposed to be a chance to learn more about each candidate and their plans for leadership in order to convince undecided voters to choose them over their opponent. However, I must wonder, how can this goal be achieved if the only ones watching have already made up their mind?
Don’t get me wrong, minds can and do change, but it seems like the debates are pointless if there are few neutral, everyday, run-of-the-mill people watching. Each VP candidate went in there with not only their own platform, but also that of their running mate, and the party as a whole. With all these different ideas being thrown out and discussed, more undecided voters should have been watching than ever. Instead, most politically-minded people watching did so knowing exactly who they were voting for and only looked to gain affirmation on why they had made the correct choice. It seems impossible to watch one VP debate and immediately make a decision, but it could have been at least a start, especially considering the chance that at that point, there may not have been another chance to hear the presidential candidates share their thoughts.
Michael Barbaro from the New York Times even said in his “The Daily” podcast regarding how he had “a lively debate on [his] team about whether [they] were going to cover the vice presidential debate.” He continued to say how “vice presidential debates are always a little bit up in the air in terms of their importance and their influence. But then events changed how [they] were thinking about it. Because they seemed to very much change the stakes of a vice presidential debate.”
At the end of the day, it seems not to matter the stakes of the debate, or the politics even being discussed if no one is watching. How do we get people to not only vote when the election comes, but take the time to learn about each candidate, and take advantage of one of the many freedoms offered through our democracy?
Is it worth it to continue things like vice presidential debates – and even debates in general – if the majority of Americans do not appreciate them? The answer to that question is yes: yes it is worth it. We have seen over decades of history that things change and people grow. American political engagement is a constantly changing battle, and it is one of the things our youngest voters are fighting for. It is not time to give up hope on citizens watching debates; it is simply time to step up and change tactics.