Historically, the presidential debates are meant to provide the country with insight into the views and future plans of candidates in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. However, as I continue to pay greater attention to politics so that I can be informed when the time comes to vote in elections, I have noticed how the presidential debates seem greatly sensationalized for the sake of audience entertainment. When I watch the debates, I want to learn why I should or should not support a candidate from either party, rather than spending two hours struggling to hear them speak over one another. Moving forward, I believe that we need to return to the reason the debates exist in the first place because somewhere along the way, their purpose has been lost.

While watching the first two Republican debates, one word came to mind: chaos. For starters, there are 15 candidates within the Republican Party, many who seem to be at odds with each other on the most effective way to run the country. There must be a sense of unity within the party, but it seems as though the candidates have not yet come to that realization. An inordinate amount of time was spent on personal attacks on each other. I believe on some level that a great deal of how they have interacted thus far has merely been for show and to command the spotlight. I find myself becoming more annoyed by the way that the candidates behave toward each other. The attention they are given should be based on how they will improve our country, not the condescending remarks that they continue to make.

Consequently, the Republican Party, which is already greatly stigmatized for not being considered socially progressive, is rapidly becoming a punchline due to the current election’s wildcard frontrunner: Donald Trump. Trump’s comments are the main reason why we must think back to what the debates are meant to represent. His bombastic nature is not what we need when we are trying to understand where the politicians stand on important social and economic issues. I am especially weary of hearing the latest insult he has directed at someone or a group of people when I turn on the news. He may help improve viewership for the Republican debates, but those who are tuning in are not doing so for the right reasons. We should be watching the debates because we want to be informed citizens. Instead, when I was watching the debate with some of my peers, there were many people who were actively engaged, but only because they were making jokes when Trump would make a sardonic remark at another candidate. This is not the type of viewership that we should encourage. Older generations have a tendency to complain that younger people lack an awareness of what is happening in our country today; but watching these adults turn the debates into something satirical serves no purpose. It is discouraging to watch how young people laugh off how these politicians behave, but more so, it is disheartening that the people leading these discussions are unbothered by the lack of professionalism.

That same interest was not shown the following month when the Democratic Party’s debate aired. During the Sept. 16 Republican debate, nearly 23 million people tuned in, breaking a record, according to CNN. However, during the first Democratic debate on Oct. 13, only 15.3 million people were watching. I consider the reason for the lower viewership to be because there was no shock factor. There are only five candidates, cutting down the competition for airtime by two-thirds, and they were relatively respectful of one another. I will admit that the Democratic debate was tough to follow because it was slow, extremely straight-laced and more efficiently moderated. But, that is how a debate should be. We should not be waiting for the next insult to come out of Trump or any other candidate’s mouth. Instead, we should focus on becoming more aware of the issues and the possible solutions that these candidates pose for them.

If we continue to view the debates as a spectacle, less people will take the elections seriously and voter turnout will continue to decline. According to The Huffington Post, the 2012 Presidential Election saw a dip from the previous presidential election, dropping from 61.6 percent of those who were eligible to vote to 58.2 percent. The decrease of 3.4 percentage points may not seem significant now, but down the road we will be faced with a larger problem: a drastic decline in exercising the right to vote. Something needs to change in how we view the electoral process, and the first step in making that change will be viewing the debates because we care, not as an extension of a skit one might see on “Saturday Night Live.”

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-- Online Editor-in-Chief Emeritus-- Digital Journalism

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