In the past 2012 presidential debates, the color scheme of the set remained the patriotic red and blue and the candidates were stationed on the same left or right side of the stage. However, there was a significant difference that changed the way President Obama and Governor Romney presented their arguments. In the first debate, President Obama and Governor Romney argued from behind the wood barrier of a podium. In the second debate, they were exposed, with the option to sit in a stool and stand or walk around the stage. The first debate was done in a style that only allowed the moderator to ask questions of the candidates, while the other was a town hall style and the audience was encouraged ask questions of the candidates, in addition to the moderators questions.
Between the podium and the stool, the symbolic differences are socially evident. Behind the podium, there is a sense of a barrier between the candidate, the moderator, and the TV crews presenting the debate to the nation. The candidates are almost able to hide behind the podium and the structure seems to protect each representative from the arguments and critics of the opposing candidate. Therefore, the podium can shape the formality of the debate, by keeping the relationship between the audience and the candidate formal and impersonal. The stool opens the possibility for unpredictability in the nature of the debate, exposes the candidates to the audience, and creates the opportunity for a personal connection between the viewer and the candidate.
The town hall debate format adds an extra sense of personability due to the foundation of audience-generated questions, which can create relatable debate conversations. In addition, the stools allow the candidate to walk around and to stand directly in front of each questioner and directly answer their question eye-to-eye. However, this format also leaves the candidate vulnerable. In the 2000 presidential election between President George W. Bush and candidate Al Gore, the option for each candidate to walk around and interact with his opponent proved to be detrimental for Al Gore, when he was perceived as trying to ‘intimidate’ President George W. Bush. In this setting, the candidates are physically vulnerable to their opponent’s actions because a podium is not present to create a barrier.
When the presidential candidates have the option of walking around the stage and interacting with the audience, I feel as though the candidates become more relatable and the questions viewers ask are more tangible to the everyday American’s understanding of governmental policies. The contrasting settings of the podium and the stool in each debate help the nation see the way the presidential candidates can deal with different environments, and whether or not the candidate is able to create a connection with the audience. So which seating format do you find more engaging?