Constitution Day Lecture: How to Watch the Presidential Debates

the debate floor

Constitution Day, officially observed each year on September 17, was observed at Rhodes on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 with a talk by Rhodes' own Professor Michael Nelson.

How to Watch the Presidential Debates

Reasoned discourse is a foundation on which the Constitution rests. How well do the presidential debates foster such discourse? What's the best way to listen to and learn from them in the course of making an informed choice between the candidates?

Below are 10 tips that Prof. Nelson offered during his talk to help make the debates more meaningful.

1. Ignore the “morning line” about how well each candidate is expected to do.

2. Tune in early and watch the pre- and post-debate programming on C-Span.

3. Are the candidates you see and hear in the debates consistent with their commercials and their opponent’s commercials?  If not, disregard the commercials.

4. Trust your ability to size up people when evaluating the candidates.

5. Evaluate what you see—body language and facial expressions—as well as what you hear.

6. How well do candidates handle the unexpected?

7. When a debate is over, ignore the pundits and polls and make up your own mind.

8. Watch as many of the debates as you can.

9. Don’t miss the vice presidential debate.

10. Don’t rely entirely on the debates.

You can view the entire lecture below, or at Vimeo.

Michael Nelson is the Fulmer Professor of Political Science at Rhodes College, a Senior Fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, and Senior Contributing Editor and Book Editor of the Cook Political Report.