67.2 million people watched the first presidential debate between the President and Mr. Romney. That turnout is second only to the SuperBowl this year. Almost more surprising, 28% more people watched this debate than the first presidential debate in 2008. When I read these statistics, I was absolutely shocked (as was the author of the article). The author claims that live television is “the last remaining civic common in an atomized world.” He might have a point – debates are the only time that the populous can view the exact same thing at the same time. Live debates are not colored or skewed by pundits and commentators. Viewers actually have space to view instead of merely absorb pre-formulated opinions.
Although this is all well and good, I highly doubt that 67.2 million people tune in to the debates thinking, “I’m going to formulate my own opinions today!” As Carr points out, people want to watch drama. We’ve discussed this plenty of times in class. The media will highlight stories and polls that make the race seem closer than it is so that more people pay attention. We all know that the first debate delivered drama with Mitt “Sassy” Romney and Barack “Sullen” Obama. However, don’t ads create just as much drama? Carr asks, “in terms of import, have the hundreds of millions spent on political ads and social media outreach been dwarfed by a single unpaid media event?” Do Americans have a special place in their heart for television? Perhaps we don’t give ourselves enough credit. Maybe Americans want to do more research before voting – after all, the debates are the only campaign events in which voters have a literal side-by-side comparison of their choices.
Mr. Carr might have an answer (and I hope he’s right): “It just may be that audiences prefer authenticity to the confection of attack ads and flag-infested promos on behalf of the candidate.”