Although various types of political campaign debate had taken place in the United States since the 18th century, it was regarded a major innovation in campaign communication when televised face-to-face debates between presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon occurred in 1960. The televised campaign debate has now become an expected institution in U.S. presidential campaigns, and candidate debates are now common for all levels of elective office. Within the pantheon of political message types, the televised presidential debate is viewed as one of the most important forms of campaign communication by the public, political candidates, and the media, as well as political communication scholars.

Perhaps the most often cited justification for the great attention paid to presidential debates is the fact they reach ...

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